Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) mobile operating system, Android, is starting to emerge as a viable video gaming platform. The release of the hand-held Android gaming console SHIELD along with indie projects like Ouya and GameStick put Android gaming on the map last year, but 2014 is shaping up to be far more substantial.
In addition to Google, Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) should also enter the Android gaming scene later this year. The emergence of Android gaming should benefit all three companies, though to varying degrees.
Samsung wants your video game console to be one of its Galaxy devices
Select any Android device in existence at random -- there's a fairly good chance it was made by Samsung. According to Localytics, Samsung-made Android smartphones account for nearly two-thirds of all Android smartphones in existence, while Samsung is the single biggest Android tablet maker by a fairly wide margin.
Now Samsung is looking to extend its hardware dominance into video gaming. In March, the company unveiled a bluetooth controller that was compatible with its Android smartphones and tablets. Last month, Samsung begin selling the controller -- though for now, only in Europe. In Germany, Samsung is selling the controller in a package with its Galaxy Tab 3 and an HDMI adapter. If the Galaxy Tab 3's 8-inch display is too small, gamers can connect the device to their HDTV for a living-room-gaming experience.
If Samsung's Android gaming solution catches on, it could help the company sell more Galaxy devices and maybe even some TVs. In October, Samsung unveiled an SDK that lets developers wirelessly beam games from Samsung made-tablets and smartphones to Samsung-made HDTVs.
Amazon's long-delayed set-top box could be much more than a vehicle for Amazon Prime
Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets compete with Samsung's Galaxy devices, but Amazon's solution for Android gaming could be quite different. Rather than make a fully featured TV or tablet solution, Amazon is rumored to be planning a set-top box.
If Amazon does release a set-top box, it wouldn't be surprising -- other smart TV add-ons, including the Apple TV and Google's Chromecast, make it difficult to access Amazon's Prime video service. If Amazon wants to remain a seller of digital media, it will likely need to release its own hardware. But Amazon is also a seller of video games, including Android-based video games, through its Android app store. In fact, Amazon actually owns a mobile game studio, though it hasn't released many titles.
Video game magazine Game Informer reported last August that Amazon was planning its own Android-based gaming console. It's possible, then, that Amazon's upcoming set-top box will double as an Android console -- allowing owners to stream Amazon movies and buy games from its app store.
Google is reportedly preparing to release a Nexus TV
Although Amazon uses Google's mobile operating system, it is a heavily modified -- or "forked" -- version. FireOS is the version of Android that powers Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets, and it's likely that Amazon would use FireOS to power its set-top box. That's a challenge for Google, because FireOS uses Amazon's app store in place of Google Play.
It's hardly surprising, then, that Google is said to be working on a Nexus TV -- its own Android-powered set-top box that will, according to The Wall Street Journal and The Information, stream digital media and play Android-based games. But Android gaming could do far more for Google. According to research firm Flurry, of the time people are using mobile devices, a shockingly high percentage is spent playing games -- nearly 40% on mobile phones and 67% on tablets.
If Android becomes the dominant platform for mobile game creators, it could give Google a leg-up over rival mobile operating systems: would-be buyers of new mobile devices could have their purchases swayed by the number of available games.
Android gaming could be one of 2014's greatest tech trends
For investors in the mobile space, the growth of Android gaming is shaping up to be one of the greatest upcoming trends of the year. Samsung, Google and Amazon all appear to be preparing to push Android gaming solutions heavily in 2014.
For Samsung, it could result in more hardware sales; for Amazon, it could extend its digital sales to the video game market; and for Google, it could give Android a great advantage over alternative mobile operating systems.