Android resolves to limit fragmentation of its platform through the Gingerbread release. This looks like to be an anti-thesis to the whole concept of open source development
Google’s Nexus One wasn’t the biggest of its success stories. Quite on contrary, the Nexus One risked a lot of OEM wrath and Google ran into conflicts of Interest with Android Supporters. It would appear that Google has not learnt well from its negative experience an year back. Google now risks the wrath of OEM businesses yet again with its latest attempt to take greater control of the Android platform.
Google has been battling with fragmentation in the Android platform with in various OEMs, who have leveraged the “open” source Android to create differentiation for themselves while sticking to the core platform. The best cases in point are Motorola’s MotoBlur and HTC’s Sense. The fragmentation of the platform is a big stumbling block against a uniformity of user experience and extension of developer APIs seamlessly across all range of devices.
Google is reported to be planning a unified user interface in its forthcoming Android release codenamed Gingerbread. This will be imposed across Android products, ending the fragmentation that dogs the system. However, this also restricts partners’ development of their own user experiences.Google wants to deter its OEM partners from taking this “unification” approach by making the default experience superior in terms of handset performance. Google believes that the proprietary overlays (made by the OEMs) are variable in quality and often slow down the device. It cannot, in the open source world, ban these UIs as Apple can, but it aims to make them “as pointless as possible” by enhancing the vanilla look and feel and ensuring it drives the fastest and most efficient performance for the handset.
Some developers fear they will need to choose between being ‘Motoblur programmers’ or ‘Sense programmers’, rather than having their Android apps run entirely unchanged on all the versions. This would create a world more like traditional Symbian – with very different user interface layers such as Nokia Series 60, DoCoMo MOAP, and the now defunct Sony Ericsson/Motorola technology UIQ, all with their own programmer bases.
This is principally, closer to the fully unified Apple approach, which faces none of the dilemmas of the open source world, between unity and freedom of choice The iPhone maker has defended its iron control of its famous user interface on several occasions against companies that sought to impose their own overlays, notably China Mobile. Google, always looking to increase its personal power over the mobile experience, is eyeing a similar control- though it may be swimming against the tide, at a time when even Microsoft, also accustomed to dictate terms for Windows, has been forced to accept third party overlays like Sense for Windows Mobile.All this is precipitated by Google’s intent to offer a consistent look, feel and experience on its UI across all its devices which will significantly compete with Apple.
Bottomline:The intent may be half correct from a market and competition perspective but is an anti-thesis of the Open source platform idea that created the Android by letting Google co-opt and co-create with OEMs and Developers.Apple levels of UI performance are almost impossible for a platform that is geared to a wide variety of devices and vendors, and Google may, once again, be overestimating its own power, and the need for its key partners to differentiate themselves.
Google needs to identify the strengths within the “open source” construct and use that to deliver higher and bigger on the platform rather than affecting changes to the philosophy which will make its open source a pseudo effort.
Reading into Google’s long term thought in smartphones and mobile ads.
First the stale news: Android edged out Apple iPhone OS as the second best selling OS in Q1, 2010 (reports NPD’s wireless research). Only that it was expected. What with a avalanche of devices with Samsung, LG, Motorola,HTC and the new Android kids on the block: Archos, Dell and Garmin. What with support from 4 major operators? What with a 1+1 marketing gimmick and what with reduced pricing on the Androids? NPD reports Android to have notched up a No.2 position at 28%, below RIM at 36% and head of Apple at 21%. This strongly establishes the power of an OS that is not tethered to one handset. The Apple OS only operates on the iPhone and RIM’s only works on the Blackberry.
While it’s a fascinating story for Android and Google fanboys, what difference does the proliferation of the Android OS mean to Google especially since its not got a direct revenue model attached to it. On the surface of it, Android edging past iPhone OS was just about expected. Possibly in a quarter or two, Android will eclipse Blackberry as well with an impressive range of products lined up for future releases. While there are theories about Apple and the surge it would get in Q2 due to the iPad hysteria, Apple still is the best able to generate profits the best within what it produces. Remember Apple reported a 90% increase in profits for Q1,2010 over Q1,2009.
Google to me stands for democratization of platforms and services. Remember the free search and the vast Ad empire that Google put around its free search. The Android could be Google’s stepping stone in massifying their ad based revenues in the mobile world. Having more and more people across all demographics carry a Android phone can be quite a potent thing actually. Android would be integrating context and location (which they already do well) to push information and ads to people. Its “open” nature and a diverse eco-system would be instrumental in driving location and context aware ad placements.
Secondly, with numbers on its side, Android would become a more attractive destination with developers. Not only would they have scale but they would be more comfortable in Google’s Open Source compared to Apple’s “walled gardens”.
The Global meltdown took its toll, but the silver lining is the market picking up as the crisis slowly dissolves. So while the total phone sales fell by 1% YOY, Q4 registered a strong resurge of 9%. This a swing of 13.5% versus the cumulative Quarters Q1,Q2,Q3. Contribution of Q4 sales to Total year sales hit 28% versus 25% on a normal basis.
The mobile devices market finished on a very positive note, driven by growth in smartphones and low-end devices. Smartphone sales to end users continued their strong growth in the fourth quarter of 2009, totalling 53.8 million units, up 41.1 per cent from the same period in 2008. In 2009, smartphone sales reached 172.4 million units, a 23.8 per cent increase from 2008. In 2009, smartphone-focused vendors like Apple and Research In Motion (RIM) successfully captured market share from other larger device producers, controlling 14.4 and 19.9 per cent of the worldwide smartphone market, respectively.
2009, intense price competition put pressure on average selling prices (ASPs). The major handset producers had to respond more aggressively in markets such as China and India to compete with white-box producers, while in mature markets they competed hard with each other for market share. Gartner expects the better economic environment and the changing mix of sales to stabilise ASPs in 2010.
Three of the top five mobile phone vendors experienced a decline in sales in 2009. The top five vendors continued to lose market share to Apple and other vendors, with their combined share dropping from 79.7 in 2008 to 75.3 per cent in 2009.
Nokia’s annual mobile phone sales to end users reached 441 million units, a 2.2 per cent drop in market share from 2008. Although Nokia outperformed industry expectations in sales and revenue in the fourth quarter of 2009, its declining smartphone ASP showed that it continues to face challenges from other smartphone vendors and from the white-box manufacturers in the mid and low end. Nokia will face a tough first half of 2010 as improvement to Symbian and new products based on the Meego platform will not reach the market well before the second half of 2010. Its very strong mid-tier portfolio will help it hold market share, but its ongoing weakness at the high end of the portfolio will hurt its share of market value.
Samsung was the clear winner among the top five with market share growing by 3.2 percentage points from 2008. This achievement came as a result of improved channel relationships with distributors to extend its reach and better address the needs of individual markets as well as a rich mid-tier portfolio. For 2010, the company is putting a focus on Bada, its new operating system (OS) that aims at adding the value of an ecosystem to its successful hardware lineup.
Motorola sold slightly more than half of its 2008 sales and exhibited the sharpest drop in market share, accounting for 4.8 per cent market share in 2009. “Its refocus away from the low-end market limited the volume opportunity, but should help it drive margins going forward. Motorola’s hardest barrier is to grow brand awareness outside the North American market, where it benefits from a long-lasting relationship with key communications service providers (CSPs).
Symbian dropped 5.4 percentage points in 2009. Competitive pressure from its competitors, such as RIM and Apple, and the continued weakness of Nokia’s high-end device sales have negatively impacted Symbian’s share. Symbian had become uncompetitive in recent years, but its market share, particularly on Nokia devices, is still strong. If Symbian can use this momentum, it could return to positive growth.
The key in this report is the rise of Android (mostly Q4 numbers). Android increased its market share by 3.5 percentage points in 2009, while Apple’s share grew by 6.2 percentage points from 2008. Apple with just one product has managed to dislodge WinMo which has multiple vendors. WinMo desperately needs WinMo 7.0 to hold the freefall. Android’s success experienced in the fourth quarter of 2009 should continue into 2010 as more manufacturers launch Android products, but some CSPs and manufacturers have expressed growing concern about Google’s intentions in the mobile market. This is in view of the Google Nexus One and the concerns can cause manufacturers to change their product strategies or CSPs to change which devices they stock, this might hinder Android’s growth in 2010
How Microsoft blew it with Windows Mobile….
In an earlier post on AUgust 25th, 2009, i had blogged about the feasibility/need of two WinMo platforms: WinMo 6.5 and WinMo 7.0. Winmo 6.5 was released a month later and now that Microsoft has announced the WinMo 7.0, i am revisiting Microsoft’s Smartphone strategy.
Microsoft laid the foundations of a real smartphone OS with Windows CE in 1996 which is at least a decade before Apple launched its iPhone and which predates Google’s existence. The Android and the iPhone are the newest kids in the block but it was always Microsoft’s game to loose. What then was the reason for Microsoft’s failure?
1. Microsoft’s lack of full-bore for a consumer perspective. So then, if there were smartphones and smartphones, it was Apple which created The Smartphone with design and interface innovation. Apple and Google also had the consumer eye for applications like social networking, maps and games.
2. Microsoft’s inability to go open. Microsoft is notorious for its “closed door” approach. That’s very different from Google which thrives on being “Open”. However, it is Apple which provides the contrast here. While it is still “closed”, Apple has opened the doors to developers for innovation.
3. The sad part for Microsoft is that in terms of operating systems, they have a great one, and they had it long before anyone else did. Their first problem is the built-in apps are uninspiring, so that sets a very low bar for developers who are coming to the platform.
4. Also plaguing Microsoft, is segmentation in the hardware ecosystem. Windows Mobile ships with several different manufacturers’ hardware, including HTC, LG and Samsung. The problem? From a developer perspective, that requires coding an app for several phones with different UI styles, buttons and screen sizes. Seeing the first signs of the platform segmentation set in, Google went Nexus One, a device that would be theirs and that would maintain the platform in all its pristine form.
5. The inability to recognize the new smartphone audience is another one of Microsoft’s flaws. Microsoft’s mobile OS history is rooted in personal digital assistants, which were marketed toward enterprise audiences. Today, the smartphone has shifted into the mainstream as a consumer device, and yet Windows Mobile is still largely focused on enterprise features. Microsoft needs to err more on the side of going too far into the consumer segment versus trying to achieve a good balance between enterprise and consumer features at this point
They had everything they needed to execute, to do the right kinds of carrier deals to create an app store, create visual voice mail, touchscreens and so on. They’ve been in this space since the beginning. It was theirs to lose and they lost it.
Going forward, in-spite of all setbacks, Mobility is one of Microsoft’s top investment areas and the mobile strategy is not going to change radically. The fortunes of WinMo will now rest on Windows 7 that it unveiled at the MWC 2010. From the looks, it is going to be a three-some fight to finish between Google, Apple and Microsoft and Microsoft’s cards do-not seem to be particularly strong at this time. We will see If and How would Winmo 7 change the status for Microsoft.
In sheer numbers, Google Chrome is small compared to a IE or a Mozilla. It accounts for 4% of the browser usage worldwide. However, Chrome (which was released in 2008) is Google’s real time bet into the way web is used in terms of speed and the way it supports cloud based applications, which arguably is the future for Google going forward. The Chrome integrates with HTML5 for faster deliveries of web based applications.
2.Next, Google has begun building its 03D plug in for hardware-accelerated 3D graphics into its Chrome browser. This paves the way for high-powered Web-based games.
3.Google plans to build Native Client into Chrome, too. This is designed to let Web applications take advantage of a computer’s native processing power.
But the Google’s big daddy of all ambitions was the Google Chrome OS, which coupled with the Google Chrome browser will stream applications and computing power from the cloud. This then would not only be a shot in the arm for Google’s Cloud ambitions but there is also a very real market of Netbooks which would love to have this booster.In other words, Google’s cloud-computing ambitions just got a lot bigger and there is a very real market for it.
The Chrome OS will also help Google take the competition out in a click since all Web-based applications on netbooks will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux, thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform. Masterstroke!
In terms of real time action: Google released the rough Chrome OS source code in November 2009 and released beta versions of Chrome browsers for Linux and Mac by December 2009.
Many Chrome ambitions are still far from any practical reality, but the browser had effects in terms of stirring up competition. Mozilla programmers have improved launch speed in the Firefox 3.6 beta.
The 2nd Half of 2010 will see Google unveil the Chrome OS and coupled with HTML 5 and “forever getting better” Chrome Browser, this may disrupt the technology that drives mobile and netbook computing. Something that Google is not unused to doing.
Mark Anderson, strategist and visionary known for his sense and knowledge of markets around the world has released his list of 10 trends for 2010 which make an exciting read.Here are the ten:
1. 2010 will be The year of Platform Wars: netbooks, cell phones, pads, Cloud standards. Clouds will tend to support the consumer world (Picnik, Amazon), enterprises will continue to build out their own data centers, and Netbook sector growth rates continue to post very large numbers.
2. 2010 will be The year of Operating System Wars: Windows 7 flavors, Mac OS, Linux flavors, Symbian, Android, Chrome OS, Nokia Maemo 5. The winners, in order in unit sales: W7, Mac OS, Android. W7, ironically, by failure of imagination and by its PC-centric platform, actively clears space for others to take over the OS via mobile platforms.
3. All content goes mobile. Everything gets tagged, multi-channeled, and the walled gardens open up. TV and movie content, particularly, break free of old trapped business models. We are moving toward watching first-run TV and movies on phones, for a price. Which leads to no. 4.
4. MobileApps and Mobile Content drive MicroPayments, which move from niche to mainstream payment models. Payment for content will split along age lines, at around 35; above, pay; below, don’t pay.
5. The Phone vs. the PC: A Split Along Two Paths (enterprise vs. consumer).Note: The phone is now the most interesting computer platform, and it is driving innovation: software, business models, distribution. Netbooks are next up as drivers.
6. There will be a Cloud Catastrophe in 2010 that limits Cloud growth by raising security issues and restricting enterprise trust. CIOs will see the cloud as the doorstep for industrial espionage.
7. A huge chasm opens in computing, between Consumer and Enterprise (government/business.), with Apple, Google and most Asian hardware companies in Consumer, and Dell, IBM, Cisco, and MS on the Enterprise side. HP will straddle both. Before 2010, talk was all about unifying consumer and enterprise. Now, talk will be about their split.
8. Microsoft loses in its Consumer play: except for gaming, it is Game Over for MS in Consumer. This will make Consumer the place to be, where the most robust and exciting change artists will work.
9. News media that survive will move to the subscription model, in whole or in part, along age lines. (See no. 4)
10. Connecting remote data to people and things in real time will lead to a series of exciting new devices and applications. Possible examples: real time comparison and recipe-driven shopping, facial recognition (in social spaces) linked to bios, self-guided tours by phone, voice-queried information about your personal environment. Many of these are technically proved out today, but they will start to emerge as an exciting and brand new trend in applications in 2010.
Barely 15 day s after i had written about Nokia’s dual OS strategy, It turns out that Maemo is not so big news from Nokia.
Nokia has gone through a rough patch over the last 18 months or so. It has lost heavily in the smartphone space to Apple, RIM and Google; and its overall numbers tumbled down in 2009. Ovi store was a lukewarm fare. However, it seemed to be making a comeback of sorts with interesting applications such as Nokia Money and Lifetools in the Mid end and Maemo devices in the smartphone segment. N900 got a great response as Nokia moved away from the Symbian platform for the first time after failure with its N97.N900 boasts some impressive specs for a smartphone-type device, and includes a touch screen, QWERTY keyboard, media playback and more. While the N900 is a bit of a niche play and doesn’t have the largest addressable market, it’s an important step for Nokia to take in regaining some much-needed momentum in the world market for smartphones. The N900 was thought to be not only the Nokia flagship, but also a learning platform for Nokia and its Maemo line up.
In this regard, Nokia’s decision to launch only one Maemo based device in 2010 is bewildering. Nokia is committed to the Symbian platform as its “smartphone platform of choice”. Symbian S60 — is outdated and clunky. Maemo looked to be a solid step in the right direction, at least from a usability standpoint.The one Maemo-device announcement was thus a let down, dashing hopes of a slew of high-end, Linux-based phones from the mobile manufacturer.The Symbian Foundation has been working hard to reboot Symbian as a platform, but so far developments has been slow, and no devices have been announced with support for the latest Symbian versions.
Either Nokia plans to take over the world with just a handset update per year like Apple does or it believes Symbian still has some life left and will continue churning out S60 and the upcoming Symbian Foundation OS based phones by the dozen. The only manufacturer for whom this “one device a year strategy” has worked very well is Apple. 2010 would be a busy smartphone year with the supposed Apple 3.1 being readied for release and Android getting mainstream. Putting a large bet on Symbian S60 can significantly risk the Nokia portfolio. There is an opinion that even one Maemo phone would be enough – if it’s an iPhone killer. To flip it around, if Nokia’s 2010 Maemo and Symbian devices return average results, they would get dangerously sidelined in the smartphone space. That would also mean being left out of the consideration space of the developer community.
Software and user experience has become the key differentiator in today’s market. We know that Nokia can design attractive and functional hardware, but it is sadly lacking in the software department. Maemo would give Nokia a good chance at fighting off its rivals if given the right support. Planning only one Maemo device for 2010 — a year in which we are sure to see a new iPhone and dozens more Android models — is a mistake
That’s a bad idea, Nokia.
The Nokia N900 finally sees the light of the day. The N 900 is a device on which Nokia’s high end fortunes will depend upon. However, the Nokia N900 tablet is also a “first ever” in terms of high end device not sporting the Symbian S60 platform. The Maemo 5 OS powers the N900. The N900 sports a 5MP camera and a 32 GB memory and a flash web browser and is priced at $649. The S60 5th edition OS (as used on the N97 and N97 mini) might be mature, but it’s pretty damn woeful. Nokia’s much-hyped 5800 and N97 showed that Symbian is now ill-suited to running a sophisticated, modern and easy-to-use multimedia phone, and so now, maybe Maemo lights the way. Maemo 5 (used by the N900) definitely has a better user experience, and though it’s not perfect either, it’s definitely headed in the right direction. Nokia seems to be finally dipping its toe in to the water of an entirely new firmware future.
Rumors suggest that Nokia will drop Symbian from the entire ‘top end’ N-Series range of handsets in favour of Maemo by 2012. Nokia has products on both platforms, with the Nokia N900 (Maemo), Nokia X6 and the Nokia N97 mini (Symbian). Going forward, Nokia seems to be planning all N Series (Mobile Internet devices) on the Maemo platform and the other phones series (XpressMusic and Enterprise series) in the Symbian platform. What’s more likely is Nokia adds more Maemo-powered handsets like the N900, which it’s called a “tablet”, to an extended top-tier Nseries lineup, while retaining Symbian S60 for its mid-range multimedia smartphones and S40 for basic candybars and emerging-market devices.
Nokia must now hope the Symbian Foundation can get developers to innovate around a somewhat open-sourced OS sufficiently to reinvent the software from its base. But it has to keep an option on Maemo as it waits for the incumbent to catch up.
In the mean time, none of the US carriers have picked up the N900. An unsubsidized N900 @ $649 will be make it very difficult for Nokia to convince its consumers to pick up. Nokia can ill afford N97’s fiasco repeated again. Historically, it dosnot have a great record in securing a competent eco-system, a decent OS and also operators to support its devices. Nokia is atleast trying to change the OS aspect of the equation with Maemo.
What would Google’s self branded smart-phones mean for Google, its eco-system, its partners, competitors and Consumers?
Kumar spoke on Google’s plans: ”Google is expected to launch a self-branded smart-phone by year end followed by netbook early next year. In its smart-phone push, Google is expected to embrace the retail channel at the expenses of carrier with the intent of greater account control. It will embed the same iteration of Android as the Motorola Droid. The hardware, featuring Qualcomm baseband, is expected to be competitive with Motorola’s offering.
Google is also expected to launch a branded netbook, again embedding Qualcomm Snapdragon, early next year. Thus far, Linux has not been able to get a toehold in the netbook segment. But the Chrome OS could be the tipping point.”
The report was half substantiated by Gigaom’s comments saying sources of its own that contend Google has been interested in developing its own Android phone
Essentially the rumor (which is all that we have at this time), speaks about Google’s tie up with smart-phone OEM for a Qualcomm -powered device running the Android 2.0 Éclair. The netbook would be designed in coordination with Quanta and would be Qualcomm Snapdragon powered. It will sport the Chrome OS. This then would be Google’s first effort at devices and the thought leading up-to its foray into devices is that Google intends to take control of its phone experience and is not confident that the current lot of smart-phone makers can make devices that explore the full suite of Google services.
Ashok Kumar also suggests that Google will not sell their phones via carriers, and instead will come unlocked to take any carrier, and will be sold directly in retail stores.
Intending to take control of its phone experience. While it would like to more tightly integrate its online services with a phone, Google is concerned that HTC, Samsung and others would regard a self-branded device as an unfair advantage. Google is apparently in talks with a Chinese company who will be manufacturing both the mobile handset and the netbook. It is not entirely too difficult for any company to make a phone these days, as long as they get at least one part right. Android and its suite of Google services hold a great promise (and challenge to the Apple OS) but Google needs a device as sophisticated as the iPhone to be taken seriously. Google already has all the data they need and they have the software too. So commissioning another company to make the handset according to their specifications does sound like the next logical step.
Delivering Android better: Microsoft has never turned Windows Mobile into anything, in part, because the hardware has not been anything special. Google thinks it can do better and, perhaps, suspects that handset manufacturers are not as smart as Google, which wrote the Android OS and created services the phone will run. This is the “Motorola, Nokia, etc., are clueless” part of the argument.
Game changing move: The Open handset will go down extremely well with consumers who often have to tie themselves into lengthy contracts with mobile phone carriers or go to the hassle of unlocking a phone so that it can be used on another network.
Keeping Apple on its toes: Google does release its own phone. Aside from the wealth of iPhone apps, the iPhone’s greatest advantage over the competition is the sheer seamlessness of its integration of hardware device and the iTunes-related services. Many companies try to ape Apple’s level of hardware-software-service integration, and very few even come close. The Android eco-system Google Smartphone combination may be the best bet yet to challenge the iPhone eco-system. It will surely keep Apple on its toes.
Selling Direct: The cost of the handset would be a big consideration. After all smart-phones do sell the volumes they sell because of heavy operator subsidies. Secondly, it might also have the effect of undermining the carriers and manufacturers who have till now been promoting, subsidizing and selling Android phones.
Partners turn competitors: Google will be making themselves a competitor against many of those who have served as partners in the past. Google is make huge strides in getting manufacturers to develop devices for its Android platform. Creating a handset of its own — making itself a competitor rather than a partner and facilitator — could conceivably hamper those efforts. Manufacturer support for the Android OS diminish if Google itself starts making and selling phones
Loss in focus of its core proposition: One important part of the ecosystem would be to have a set of well-functioning applications (an office productivity suite, for example). Google is mostly leaving applications development for Android to third parties (applications which run in the browser like Google Docs being the notable exception). At the rate things are going, we don’t see enough of these third parties developing applications for Android netbooks in the next 12 months. Google would be better off concentrating on building music and app stores, modeled after Apple. Those are Apple’s no-so-secret weapons and until Google can really compete, there is nothing to stop the iPhone.
Antitrust issues: Google is now so dominant in search that a revived American antitrust division is already making noises. They already have the choice of Android or Chrome for mobile internet devices and now, if they are able to make headways into the netbook industry they’ll make the Microsoft of old look modest.
End Lines: Going forward
Maybe the smart-phone marks the decline of the wireless hardware vendor and rise of the OS and applications provider. The iPhone seems to prove this. Maybe the only company that can make Android a hit in the marketplace is Google itself, by selling hardware it designs. That is the principle argument in favor of Google and its smart-phone efforts. The way Google handles its relationships with its current partners will be crucial to future relationships. Alternately, perhaps Google will get into the handset business and the other handset companies will run away from the Googl eco-system, leaving Google alone with a loser phone and a not-very-exciting ecosystem on the edge of extinction. Almost like Microsoft, but for different reasons. Google may aspire to walk the middle path. A Google-made Android phone would further intensify competition between the Google and Apple.
Fragmentation of Android Open platform and Google’s efforts to bring a method to madness in its OS updates and its pitfalls.
Open platforms are increasingly coming of age and the future from the looks of it is completely Open Platform led (read report). LiMo powered Google Android is the best example of trend setting into the mainstream. With every major account that Google Android takes over, the proprietary WinMo loses. The Android camp can today boast of HTC, Motorola and Samsung in its ranks. Each of those names is Android’s gain and WInMo’s loss. Earlier, Gartner had predicted a 7X increase in smart-phone numbers driven by Android in the next 4 years, even as the smart-phone market would grow 4X. WInMo in the same time would at best remain flat. (Read report here)
The best thing about open platforms such as Android is that they seem to make the devices platform agnostic. An Android powered HTC and the Moto Droid would thus be on the same interaction levels. Thus interface commonality of applications and content would make the user experience uniform.
However by adopting standard platforms, manufacturers risk losing the ability to differentiate themselves. This is something akin to the WinMo 6.1 screen that is ubiquitous across all Windows devices. The handset manufacturers had no choice with WinMo, but with Google Android they have a choice of differentiating their Interfaces and re-designing them. The fact that Android gave the ODM the choice of customizing the platform was one of the USPs of Android. However, this then causes the open platform to fragment as ODMs dig deep into parts of the operating system. So then Google Android starts branching out like the Moto Blur or the HTC Sense.
An example to this effect is the multi touch “Pinch” zooming:
- The Motorola Droid’s Android 2.0 OS supports multi-touch out of the box, but Google and Motorola haven’t turned it on for any of the phone’s built-in apps. So the Droid’s Web browser, Google Maps, and built-in photo app do not support pinch zooming. Third party applications can also support Multi touch.
- Meanwhile, the HTC droid Eris, which runs an older, customized version of Android, also supports multi-touch — but only for a few apps made by HTC. The Droid Eris’s Web browser and built-in photo app do support pinch zooming. But Google Maps does not
That’s just one feature compared across 2 manufacturers. The complexity could be a groundswell across multiple ODMs and a number of features. The inconsistencies among phones will continue to grow. And it wont just be confusing to consumers, but could be a roadblock to developers writing apps for Android. That is something Google can’t afford.
So then it will be important for ODMs to maintain application compatibility even as they create distinct ways to organize user’s information and services.
On the other hand, it could also mean Google having to step in with the ODMs in the UI customization stage such that device differentiation is created and platform sanctity is also maintained.
Google seems to have stepped into device UI customization process already as was the case with Motorola Droid. Google’s Android team directly assisted Motorola and Verizon in building the Droid’s software from the ground up and is currently assisting another, unknown, handset maker in Korea to create a finely-tuned hardware and software combination. (Read Report). Currently Google releases major updates on a chosen flagship model.
- 1.0 went to the HTC G1
- 1.5 went to the HTC Hero
- 2.0 went to Motorola
While this suits Google’s scheme of things, this discrimination can hurt Android eco-system in the long run. Google will have to balance two things:
- Coordinating UI update releases to ensure appropriate standardization for open source innovation
- Being fair to the ODM eco-system in terms of roll outs of the UI versions.
It would be interesting to see how Google balances the issues of fragmentation versus standardization of the Android platform. Similarly how Google handles its OS updates between its partners will be a critical for the Google Eco-System.
We will watch this space.