I believe Google is coming to a cross roads with Android. The reality is that we live in a software world. Hardware design is nice but software is what makes our devices useful.
Steve Wildstrom wrote an article asking the question about whether Android was a mistake for Google. I don’t believe Android is or was a mistake for Google, however I do believe they need a more hardware centric strategy.
Several things have happened and are continuing to happen around Android that leads me to believe a better strategy can be employed.
The first is that companies, Amazon namely, have taken what Google created as a base OS in Android and fully customized it stripping all benefit to Google.
Originally Google encouraged this idea of customization of Android for vendor differentiation. However things changed as Android began to become more popular and enginners realized scaling a truly open platform would be difficult.
At the turning point for Android, which I believe was 2.2 or Froyo, Google began to attempt to control Android more tightly thus making it harder for hardware partners to customize Android and differentiate their products. Google began to promote and encourage a non-customized version of Android to their hardware partners. Their Nexus line of devices are the evidence of what Google wants to see happen with Android hardware. Namely that the hardware is good but the software all looks the same.
Those who make Android hardware whether they be tablets or smart phones are longing for Google to help them differentiate their hardware. Because of the many restrictions Google is putting on Android devices get lost in the sea of sameness.
Because of that vendors like Amazon, or entire countries like China, have taken the basic Android code and made it their own completely separate from Google’s version of Android.
This is important because Google created Android as a software front end to their services. When a company takes the basic code but strips it from using Google’s services, the custom implemenation loses all benefit to Google.
The other market development that could impact Android is vendors seeking their own software solutions. An example of this is what Intel and Samsung are backing with Tizen. I am skeptical of Tizen however the fact that a key Android partner, like Samsung, is putting resources into a solution other than Android is not a good sign.
So What Should Google Do?
What Google needs to do, and I think they need some serious help to do this, is to figure out how they can work with their hardware partners to differentiate their Android solutions but still utilize Google services.
Now in the case of Amazon even if Google had an Android differentiation startegy I don’t think Amazon would have used it. Amazon is also a services company.
The rest of the market however would benefit from a Android strategy that allowed for differentiation but also still tightly integrated Google’s services. I don’t believe we will see this kind of solution in Ice Cream Sandwich, where Google allows for heavy customization. This is a real issue that Google needs to address with coming versions.
I’ve wrote extensively about product differentation and I will continue to but what we have right now with Android is the sea of sameness. That needs to change if companies want to stay in business.
This same problem exists for Microsoft but that is for another article.
Dear Industry: Dare to Differentiate