LAS VEGAS—The "ecosystem" – hardware, content, apps, operating system, connectivity – will be the hot button issue of 2012, according to CNET's annual Super Session "The Next Big Thing," presented here at 2012 International CES. More specifically, it will be a fight among the major players to evolve the kind of ecosystem that brings everything together into a refined user experience.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, and Tim Baxter, president of sales, marketing and operations for Samsung Electronics North America, were on hand to weigh in on the issue from two very different perspectives. Google has built an ecosystem around its open source Android operating system, whereas Samsung focused primarily on hardware.
While Schmidt admitted his admiration of Apple products, he makes no secret of his opinions on the debate over open versus closed ecosystems. The former Google CEO called Apple's ongoing legal battle with Samsung and subsequent injunction against the sale of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Germany a simple matter of inhibiting choice, which he said ultimately hurts the consumer.
When asked whether Android's philosophy of openness has led to fragmentation, Schmidt rejected the term. He said consumers have more choice with Android, adding that the latest iteration of Android (Ice Cream Sandwich) will offer the platform standardization going forward.
"Our core strategy is to get everyone under Ice Cream Sandwich," Schmidt said. "They can change things up, as long they don't break application compatibility."
Schmidt admitted that it's taken Google a little longer than Apple to bring all the pieces of the Android ecosystem together. He said his successor, Larry Page, has done more to build into the company's many products a more homogenous look and seamless interactivity.
Google's Android system is now seen as one of the strongest operating systems on the market. Schmidt said Google is now operating 700,000 devices per day. But even given those kinds of numbers, he said, both Google's open system and Apple's closed one will be successful going forward.
"Both models will do well going forward because it's such a big market," Schmidt said.
And Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 (WP7) operating system? Schmidt wasn't optimistic. "Microsoft is trapped in an architectural restructuring that it might not make it through."
On the flip side of the ecosystem is Samsung, which has made its way to the top of the mountain on hardware alone. While lacking in the content department, Samsung has been able to depend on the existing environment of third-party apps, services and content to power its popular line of tablets, smartphones, TVs and even refrigerators.
Baxter said Samsung will continue to focus on producing top-notch devices and let the growing base of Android developers supply the rest. "We're not a content company, and we do not aspire to become a content company," he said.
Still, Baxter admitted that Samsung could broker content that it feels would benefit customers using the company's devices. The company has managed to put together a library of 1,400 apps for its line of connected TVs. While that might not sound like a lot compared to other app stores, Baxter says Samsung has focused on offering apps that are relevant for use on TV.
CNET's selection of the ecosystem as the next big thing seems on point given the highlights of this year's CES, which include both Microsoft and Nokia trying to meld their primary assets, platform and hardware, respectively, into a workable ecosystem. What appears to have been clarified from today's discussion is that the competition amongst providers of hardware and platforms has reached a point of maturity where consumers will no longer accept weaknesses, or holes, in the user experience.