Google’s “open” approach to Android has certainly helped build the platform’s user base: Android powers more than half of the world’s smartphones. Whether you love Android or hate it, it’s difficult to argue that this level of adoption is anything less than a success. Android debuted as a clunky operating system with few apps in October 2008, but since then has improved and grown. But Google’s openness — allowing anyone to use the platform — might not be the best strategy for keeping its lead.
The latest example of Android’s mess: Blame
“Google determines what platform gets the newest releases and when. A lot of times, that’s a negotiated arrangement and that’s something we work at hard. We know that’s important to our customers. That’s kind of an ambiguous answer because I can’t give you a direct answer in this setting.”
“Mr. Stephenson’s carefully worded quote caught our attention and frankly we don’t understand what he is referring to. Google does not have any agreements in place that require a negotiation before a handset launches. Google has always made the latest release of Android available as open source at source.android.com as soon as the first device based on it has launched. This way, we know the software runs error-free on hardware that has been accepted and approved by manufacturers, operators and regulatory agencies such as the FCC. We then release it to the world.”
What’s the real problem here?
But at the end of the day, if you’re not using a Nexus, you’re at the mercy of your handset maker or your carrier for updates. And those won’t likely be timely; Motorola explains why in this blog post. Plus, your carrier can always determine which features you can or can’t use on your handset; Google Wallet works great on my Galaxy Nexus, but the Verizon LTE version doesn’t support the service. The problem Android faces today is the one it has always faced, but has never been able to tame: A lack of control.
If Google were to take control of Android now, it would be difficult for carriers and handset makers to rebel. Apple has no LTE handset yet, so operators are pushing Android devices over the iPhone in some cases. Hardware makers have few other choices to turn to as well. They could opt to embrace Microsoft’s Windows Phone, but the consumer demand isn’t there yet. One company, LG, recently suggested it wouldn’t be building any Windows Phones until consumer demand warranted it. Let’s face it: Google has carriers and hardware makers in a position where it could dictate Android’s future use; at least for a little while.