Google vs. Android

by Ben Bajarin   |   February 12th, 2014

One of the more interesting narratives that is starting to become mainstream is the knowledge that there are versions of Google’s Android operating system which compete directly with Google’s Android operating system. Google offers to the world a clean, and updated, version of Android as an open source code base (AOSP). There has been an increase in coverage by the media to explain how and why Android should not be forked at this point.

What I have continually articulated publicly is that the best way to understand Android is to think of it as a platform for which others can create platforms. Google has taken the basic AOSP code base and integrated their services on top of it and offered this version of Android to be used by anyone who they approve by passing their device certification requirements. Amazon and Xiaomi are top tier examples of companies who have taken AOSP Android and used it for their own benefits by differentiating the platform in unique ways that fit their core business model. A commenter on a recent article, who states they are on the Android team eloquently explains what Android actually is and why is exists. I encourage you to read the whole comment but I have chosen these quotes:

AOSP is far more than the basic bones of a smartphone operating system. It is a complete smartphone operating system. The examples you provide for what it includes are very misleading — what about the launcher, contacts app, dialer and phone app, calendar app, camera and gallery and on? The fact is, if you build AOSP today and put it on a phone, you will have a pretty fully functioning platform.

AOSP is a fully functioning platform.

The thing you don’t have is stuff related to cloud services, and this is not an evil secret plan of Google, but a simple fact we have been clear about from the initial design of the platform: Android as an open-source platform simply can’t provide any cloud services, because those don’t run on the device where the platform code runs. This is a key point that seems to be completely missed. If you want to understand what Android is, how it is designed, and how the pieces fit together, you must understand this point.

Google’s services do not run on vanilla AOSP. Google takes AOSP and creates a new code base for which their services run. What becomes critical in the narrative is the word services. Software platforms are at their very basic core a mechanism to drive services. Windows was/is a mechanism to drive Microsoft’s services. Android is a mechanism for Google and others to drive their services. iOS and OS X are mechanisms for Apple to drive their services.

The data point gets voiced in the anti-forking Android narrative that Google’s services are so deeply relevant that it makes no sense to fork it. This is both true and not true at the same time. It is true in markets like the US and the UK that Google’s services are deeply relevant. You can even make a case that they are relevant in markets like India, and some other emerging regions, but this argument is less true in the same ways it is true in the US and the UK. Case in point.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 9.27.48 AM

On this Wikipedia page someone has taken all the regional data points publicly shared by Google about Play store for regions where customers can buy paid apps (column 1), developers can sell paid apps (column 2), and the following columns the types of content available (i.e magazines, books, music, tv, movies). The UK and the US are the only regions where all of the services Google has to offer a fully available. Worth mentioning, China is not even listed by Google as a region. *Thanks to James King for making me aware of this.

Now for comparison I took the whole of the Google Play availability for mentioned services and compared them iTunes((Here is the iTunes availably link. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITunes_Store)) since both mentioned in the global services conversation. Here is what it looks like. Green means a particular services is available and red means it is not.

itunes_vsgoogle

What you see with regard to the Google Play services availability is the biggest issue facing Google. It is one that is forcing, in a good way, local companies in those regions to create and bring to market services of their own to support their region. China is the best example of this do date. Granted China’s Android ecosystem is a bit messy with over 100 different app stores but the region is quickly fixing these issues and consolidating.

The fact that Android is being used as an open source platform is not necessarily a bad thing for Google. What is challenging is that they are not making the impact with their services the way they need to be in many of these regions. Their competition in this case is not from the likes of Apple or Microsoft necessarily but from savvy startups looking to solve a problem in their region and doing it better than Google can thus keeping Google out of regions they may wish to compete.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • http://islandinthenet.com/ Khürt L. Williams

    “The fact is, if you build AOSP today and put it on a phone, you will have a pretty fully functioning platform.”

    Yes. True. But … can a handset maker do that with one of their phones and not the others? In other words, can Amazon relase both an ASOP based version of Kindle and a Google Services version of the Kindle? My understanding is that if a handet maker — e.g. Samsung — wants to release a Google Services version of Android they must agree to stop making ASOP (non-Google) version of a device.

    • benbajarin

      Yes this is possible. The devices Samsung sell in China do not come with Google’s services installed on them. This is obviously because Google’s services have no presence in China so I would view this as an exception.

      While it would be technically possible for Samsung to ship a device into a market that is certified for Google’s services and one that is not, I would wager that Google would push hard against doing so. But as I understand it the GMS is more a requirement that a devices hardware hit a few key hardware spec checklists to make sure Google’s Android version runs the best as possible.

      • weyhan

        Didn’t Google threaten Acer for partnering with Alibaba to produce a non-Android phone? The Aliyun OS is not even Android, AFAIK. I would be interested to see if Google would object to any OEM for producing an ASOP phone.

  • stefnagel

    Crikeys. Nice work.

    • FalKirk

      Agreed. A very nice article indeed, deserving of much attention.

  • DJ

    vertical integration ftw

  • weyhan

    Interesting that the Apple App Store have 3 column that is fully green. Podcast, iTunes U and apps (buy and sell). Google have 0 column that is fully green.

    • RalphC

      Good point, It’s also interesting to see Apples two biggest red columns are iTunes radio and TV shows. This makes sense because TV licensing is complicated enough just in the U.S. let along every other country. iTunes radio is new so it will take some time before it is pushed out everywhere. My only thing is how come the movies column doesn’t reflect more closely with the T.V. column.?

      • weyhan

        TV shows sells commercials while movie is more or less standalone. Having iTunes sell movie is like having a new but not as good cinema chain. I bet it is not as attractive as going to the cinema to have a big screen experience for many. My guts say it does not hurt the cinema owners as much as TV shows does to the local TV stations.

      • FalKirk

        iTunes radio was only initiated in the Fall of 2012. Apple just recently extended it from the U.S. to Australia. We’ll have to wait to see how fast and how far Apple can extend that particular service.

  • JohnDoey

    > What I have continually articulated publicly is that the best way to understand Android
    > is to think of it as a platform for which others can create platforms.

    It’s easier and more accurate to just describe AOSP as an iPhone cloning kit for hardware manufacturers.

  • obarthelemy

    Though the colors are the same, the columns represent very different things are not not directly comparable. The only comparison is between Apple(‘s column 6 and Google’s column 1.
    Might have been worth mentioning….

  • James King

    The thing that I take away from the charts is that Apple strives to provide maximum value with its ecosystem for as many of its users as possible while Google focuses primarily on highly-developed areas (India being a notable exception). Apple wants people everywhere who invest in its ecosystem to find a high-level of value in it. Google is content to provide a store-front for most areas.

  • http://naofumi.castle104.com/ Naofumi

    It’s great that you bring up the topic of Google Play availability. It is clearly a result of how Google and Apple have approached content owners in the past.

    Apple has worked very hard with content owners since the inception of the iTunes store, and in their interests. You could also even argue that the relationship started far before that, when the original Macintosh paved the way for computer graphics, desktop publishing, desktop music and all the creative stuff. Steve Jobs clearly mentioned that he was on the side of the content creators and even the iBookStore agency model was beneficial to the publishers.

    Apple also negotiates patiently with the content owners in each region. Books, movies and music often have regional distribution agreements which have to be worked out individually.

    On the other hand, Google is known for not honoring the rights of content owners. That is a core part of their business. They border on copyright issues and have had many lawsuits on YouTube, Google Books, news headlines, etc. I doubt that the working relationship between Google and content owners is good. The many failings of Google TV was a good example. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_TV

    What we see is that Google is OK when they have ownership of the content (mobile apps), but weak when they don’t. Apple is strong at both. This is most likely a result of their respective corporate cultures and corporate agendas. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

    The issue is how much this matters. My bet is that it will matter a lot.

    • Quicksingle

      itunes commenced in 2003, Android Market in 2008 – a massive 5 years head start. Google Play started 2012. When you talk of corporate culture, I assume you believe that deliberate price fixing is an acceptable culture.

      • http://naofumi.castle104.com/ Naofumi

        If I understand correctly, you are assuming that Apple is ahead only because it had a head start. Fair argument, but you should consider why Google waited so long. They could have done Google Play a long time ago. Why didn’t they?

        What I’m saying is that Google only got into this business because it wanted to copy Apple’s success and/or Amazon Kindle’s success. Selling content was never a focus for Google. On the other hand, using other’s copyrighted material for free always has been.

        On the other hand, ever since the iPod, Apple has had music artists perform at their events. Helping content owners has been a focus for at least 10 years.

        With this difference in attitude, I think that it is very unlikely that Apple is ahead simply because it had a head start.

  • fl1nty

    Fascinating that Horace had a 5 part essay around android vs google 3 years ago. You guys should have him on cubed soon! http://www.asymco.com/2011/04/01/google-vs-android-part-v/