Google takes leaf from Apple playbook, tightens grip on Android
By Chantal Tode
May 18, 2012
Google appears to be seeking greater control over the Android mobile operating system by working more closely with handset manufacturers to develop pure Android devices and sell these directly to consumers. The moves could lead to less fragmentation in the Android ecosystem and simplify working with Android for developers and marketers.
According to published reports, Google plans to work with up to five different manufacturers, giving them all early access to new releases of Android to create a portfolio of lead smartphone and tablet devices. At the same time, Google plans to sell these Nexus devices directly to consumers in the United States, Europe and Asia via the Google Play Device Store.
“It seems like Google is moving more in the direction of the middle in terms of taking more control over the software experience,” said Noah Elkin, principal analyst at eMarketer, New York.
“I would say it is less a question of making the platform less open and more to take steps to ensure there is greater consistency of the experience,” he said. “This probably has more benefits for the participants in the value chain than downsides.
“It could be an important shift for the Android ecosystem.”
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Google declined to comment for this story.
Improved user experience
Google's Android has famously been an open system and while this fact is one of the key reasons for its significant growth over the past couple of years, there has also been a lot of grumbling about the fragmentation and inconsistencies that have resulted.
The moves to work with more manufacturers and sell more devices direct address some of these concerns.
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In the past, Google partnered with only one hardware manufacturer at a time to produce lead Android devices.
Other devices often were not updated in a consistent or timely fashion, which meant there were typically many different versions of the Android software available on a variety of different handsets at any given time, making it difficult for developers trying to create apps for Android to know where to put their focus.
The new strategy to work with multiple manufacturers should help Google streamline the process of making updates to the operating system, giving users a better experience.
Additionally, by purchasing the devices unlocked directly from Google, users will not have to commit to a two-year contract and can install what they want on their phones.
By providing a better user experience, this could attract more marketing to Android.
“Marketing on Android will always be a product of how effective the customer experience is on Android devices,” said Raqib Sheikh, senior strategic planner at Modea, Blacksburg, VA.
“The fact that marketers are willing to deal with iAds in spite of the restrictions and expense is because we believe it's worth it to deliver our brand messages on a platform that consistently delights consumers," he said.
“As Google makes this move to deliver a better consumer experience through Android, then, yes – more marketers should consider being present on that platform.”
The new portfolio of Nexus phones is expected to be available in the fourth quarter.
The moves could also help Google continue to develop Google Wallet, which has been challenged in part by the limited number of devices on which it is available.
“It would also appear this is part of Google’s continuing strategy to control their own destiny when it comes to the uptake and success of Google Wallet,” said Jeff Huang, manager of mobile and emerging platforms at MEC, New York.
“To date, they’ve been solely reliant on third parties to provide the necessary hardware for what is a key part of Google’s payments vision," he said.
"With their Motorola Mobility acquisition, together with this news, they are aiming to give Google Wallet the additional fillip it needs - and before the seemingly inevitable entry of Apple hardware – not to mention the raft of other organizations’ software platforms – into this space.”
Benefitting the ecosystem
Working more closely with multiple manufacturers also potentially answers the questions that have been circulating since Google announced plans to acquire Motorola last year about what Google’s relationship with other manufacturers will be.
While some were concerned that Motorola would be the first to have access to the latest software, this now does not seem to be the case.
“By working with more manufacturers, rather than having a single halo device and spreading the latest version of Android across multiple devices, should benefit the ecosystem, as a whole,” eMarketer's Mr. Elkin said.
“It will simplify the mission of developers in that regard with not having to support multiple versions of the software,” he said.
“What this signals to a certain extent is that the ecosystem, as a whole, remains important to Google."
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