Google to Android Hardware Manufacturers: Be Generic

While it’s doubtful Google would outright restrict custom interfaces, the move could potentially solve much of the OS fragmentation issue that plagues Android today. Proprietary interface layers have been the primary cause of OS upgrade delays as phone makers have gone several months before updating the OS or even skipped upgrades entirely because of the extra testing and compatibility problems found in Google’s own updates. Despite Android 2.2 being available for the Nexus One a month ago, for example, no other Android phone currently uses it.

If Google puts the kibosh on custom UIs, hardware makers will have little with which to differentiate their devices. Google couldn’t care less, but the hardware makers do.

It’s a return to Dell and HP spitting out no-name clones running the same software and racing to the bottom on price. This invariably leads to razor-thin margins, cheap products and low quality as they must squeeze every penny they can. When your hardware “partners” aren’t happy it can’t be good for the platform.

Could they differentiate on hardware? Not really. Not if there’s no custom software to support it. This is where Apple gets it, and kicks ass. Add a front-facing camera, and include FaceTime for video calling. Add HD video recording, and offer simple clip editing/sharing, with more advanced iMovie editing for just five bucks.

It’s the integration of hardware and software, not one or the other, that makes a device. If the article is true, Android took yet another step to becoming the next Windows Mobile (you know, the mobile OS that ran on tens of millions of devices and nobody knew it, or cared?), not the next iOS.

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3 thoughts on “Google to Android Hardware Manufacturers: Be Generic

  1. Tom:But the company who can wield an effective monopoly in software makes a fortune from the generic strategy. Apple has achieved economies of scale in the niche strategy this time around by exploiting its early technological lead, so price competition is less effective than it was for generic PCs. But I think Google has chosen to pursue another strategy of differentiating Android phones. They are encouraging their licensees (especially HTC, which has an amazing ability to churn out fairly sophisticated phones at a blistering pace) to load up the phones with attractive hardware features, as Google itself gives away a lot of software applications with embedded advertising and cloud connections in an effort to hurt both Apple and Microsoft at the same time. If Google’s strategy works, it should become more difficult for Apple to keep up with the pace of goodies. One test of whether this is the strategy will be whether Google begins to make certain applications, or levels of technical sophistication of those applications, exclusive to the Android OS. The exclusionary aspect may involve the amount of cloud integration in the application.What Google seems to be counting on in the American market is that broadband access improvements will advance rapidly enough to justify centering cellphone innovations on the cloud, while Apple’s strategy reflects a higher degree of skepticism on that score by keeping more of the processing on the cellphone “desktop.” Although it would be interesting to know what Apple plans to do with the new server farm in North Carolina. We will see who is right.One more reason why Google might not care involves its ability to place ads on the iPhone and iPad. If it is not seriously hampered by Apple’s new iAd requirements or any future restrictions, then the goal of winning the advertising war is still within reach even if Android falls behind the iOS in market share.

  2. Paul,I understand and appreciate your point, but whether the chief revenue is from licenses or mobile ads, Google seems to think the name of the game is volume. Get it on as many hands from as many manufacturers as possible. And yet, that was exactly Microsoft’s philosophy. Further, Microsoft had lots of volume, so they “succeeded” in that goal. The problem was they had no differentiation in the marketplace, nothing to stand out. The phones became little more than commodities that were, frankly, easy for people to leave. I just don’t think Google should be following the pure volume strategy. Even though they rely on ads instead of licenses, the client has to use your device, heavily, and depend upon it for that revenue to come through. With boring, me-too, cheap phones I don’t know if that happens.

  3. There is one difference between Microsoft and Google’s contributions to profits from the generic hardware option. If Google wins the advertising war and reaps the profits by its control of cellphone software, it may share more of the surplus from the economies of scale of producing the software with its hardware licensees than Microsoft has done. But that won’t change the incentive to licensees to engage in cutthroat competition on pricing.You are putting your finger on the new phase of the classic competitive situation in the computer electronics industry. Google has made their choice, and I don’t think that the custom interface question is of sufficient significance to change that decision.

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