A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to World Domination

Google purchased the Android, Inc. company back in 2005, then announced the Open Handset Alliance in, 2007.  Then in the Fall of 2008, the lowly T-Mobile G1 was open to the public.  But the initial business model that Google put forth may have gone awry in the time since up to now.

In the beginning, Google positioned Android as a free and open-source mobile operating system that would better enable Google Search on mobile handsets and go to their bottom line for ads.  But why would Google actually go through all of this trouble to do this?  They already had Google Maps and Search applications on iPhones, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry’s even in 2008.  No, Google wanted a native experience with their own UI and designs that would set their mobile vision apart for the competition.  Then they announced the Chrome Browser, Chrome OS, and Honeycomb 3.0 to users that wanted even more online/offline interactions with their information saved in the Google cloud.  But in the beginning, Android essentially grew in a vacuum.  Sure the iPhone was a threat and even inspiration you might say, but not much was going on except for email, web browsing, and only a handful of apps.  Fast forward to today.  What do you use your smartphone for?  When I am out of the home/office, it is essentially everything.  In fact, in most cases, it can replace 90% of my PC’s functionality and then some.

Even though growth for Android is trending up quarter over quarter, but at what cost?  What has Google done to that initial free and open source OS that is now plagued by self-induced and ODM (original device manufacturer) fragmentation, slow-to-never updates for multiple devices, and UI issues that have been hi-jacked by the likes of HTC, Motorola, Samsung, et al.  If the strategy is and was to have a mobile software portal for all, than Google has succeeded.  If it was to have a cohesive design UI that would only be identified as a ‘Google’ device, a consistent experience that transcends device manufacturers, and a mobile platform that is superior to iOS then they are falling shorter every day.

I have owned many Android devices over the past few years that have had no discernible differences save the ones that were injected by the  ODM’s.  Google needs to realize, more than ever, after the recent Motorola Mobile acquisition (whether it was for patents or not) that core Android users would like an official Google phone AKA device that is wholly and totally endorsed by Google.  Yes, the Nexus One and the recent S were moderate success in spite of the Phone Store’s failure, but what about an official device that truly transcends CDMA and GSM lines drawn in the sand.   And we can finally get a device that is THE Android crown jewel that has hardware that can support at least two major updates into the future.  There is also a major change here, the reason why someone would choose Android over anything else.  When I get a new Android smartphone and/or tablet I can have it activated and sync’d before I even leave the retail outlet.  Since our Google ID’s hold the keys to native mobile experiences for Gmail, Calendar, and Contacts the devices are literal cloud portals for my information.  While this can be done in iOS it is done very much in an ad-hoc way and usually is a very dissatisfying experience.  One of the only ones, I might add, is the iOS native email client when using Gmail.

Another issue that Google cannot change: Moore’s Law is on hyperdrive when it comes to mobile processors and RAM.  Literally, every few months new and faster processors are flying out of TI, Qualcomm, Samsung, and even Intel will be getting into the Android game.  Not to mention that iOS has slowly improved their features with wireless sync, multi-tasking, and the coming iCloud that will definitely bring it up to Android’s parity.  And given their tight control over production, marketing, and the supply chain the iPhone 5 will be a formidable competitor to everyone.  This is an exciting time in Mobile and I am definitely living in at the Android Camp, but the competition here is moving every which way.  With RIM and Microsoft regrouping, only Apple and Google are seeing constant growth without acquisition and compromise, quarter over quarter.  Google needs to re-focus Android in quality and not quantity.  Android has the numbers and to some extent the pedigree but what it does lack is polish and perceived quality in both hardware and software.  This is what drives good software.  Users are not interested in pragmatism and functionality only anymore.  I believe that all modern mobile experiences can achieve that so the bar has now been set incredibly high.  Android needs a comprehensive overhaul that might be coming in the guise of Ice Cream Sandwich which actually has the opportunity to be the first real challenger to the upcoming iOS 5.

Google, do this:

  • Amp up your UI and make it consistently ‘Google’ and not a hodge podge of fragmented elements.
  • Improve HTML5 compatibility in your native browser.
  • Improve your contracts with the ODM’s to enforce an option to either run native Android x.x or the ODM UI, i.e. Samsung TouchWiz and HTC Sense.

Google, don’t do this:

  • Think that pure market numbers and growth equals a good mobile experience.
  • Rely on the ODM’s to tell the Android group what a good user experience looks like.
  • Believe that the Competition is standing still in awe of your scope and size.
  • Anonymous

    I still don’t understand why OEM’s don’t just let you download their skins in the Market. Look at LauncherPro it’s in the market and it is way better than most OEM skins and it doesn’t slow down updates to your phone. 

    • At least Samsung is test-driving that method with their Pure Breeze launcher. What companies do with TouchWiz, Sense, etc isn’t just a launcher, it wouldn’t be that simple to put it in the Market. Although I do agree with you, it’s not that easy. But for instance HTC could offer a Sense launcher, different downloadable widgets, replacement dialer. Let users mix and match what they like about a custom UI instead of manufacturers forcing you to root and install a custom ROM to get what you want.

  • Miguel

    You missed completely the point. The 4 objectives of Android since day one are:

    – Open
    – All applications are created equal
    – Breaking down applications boundaries
    – Fast & easy application developement

    Nothing about having only one UI, nothing about the cloud, nothing about Google ruling out the world. Please do not try to make an iPhone out of Android.

    The only problem I have with Google now is not having Honeycomb opensourced… that’s what you should talk about.

    • Agree. This article is completely off base. 

    • AndroidCore

      1000000000% AGREED! To the users below Miguel and Jens, please understand that Android is open. Google doesnt do UIs. UIs come from OEMs ONLY. Please for the love of whatever god you worship… Understand that. Iphones or iOS is closed. 1 ROM with 1 UI. All iphones are the same right down to the freakin kernel.. And if you even try to theme it, well. lol, you cant (minus ringtones and wallpapers obviously LOL). You must jailbreak it, void AppleCare Warranty, to install even the stupidest of custom themes. An unrooted Android already can do this. My Droid X is MY DROID X. I guarantee no one on the planet has my theme. Shoot, I MADE MY THEME! Android = Individuality. Iphone – Utopian 1984 society. “NEVER AGAIN!”

      Moreover, iOS 5 is nothing more than a ripped off Android Gingerbread 2.3.3, if you REALLY want to break iOS down. And it STILL lacks compared to Gingerbread. Saying that ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich 2.4/4.0) needs to catch up to iOS 5… LMAO… I think its the other way around. Still no innovation from old man Steve since Iphone 3GS and IOS 3… and even that is debatable due to Windows 6, Blackberry 5, webOS.

      Anyways. I wont preach. I love my individuality. I dont want to be part of an elite group of people, who’s phones are ALL programmed the same, run the same ROM, same UI, 90% restricted in theming, cant express myself, belief in a closed system, and shudders and throws baby hissing fits when someone INNOVATES better than “you” do! and when you cant beat them in sales and marketshare worldwide, you sue them and get unethical clainming patent law crap. First touchscreen. bull####… I remember having a touchscreen tablet in college in 1997. WOW 10 years before iphone! Patents my ##@#$… Grow Up.. think of something amazing like you all did in the 70s.. Woops, that was Woz, not you! cough*** Apple II **cough*** iphone/ipad *cough… remember, your partly owned by Bill… dont forget that!… maybe by 2015, you’ll need Bill again to bail you out of a failing company. LOL maybe Andy and Eric will be added to your facebook too just in case.

      • Nouewfgz

        The point that not only do you not know history well and the present, such as Apple is the company with a devoted cult-like group, and last month was the most valuable in the world for a moment, that Bill Gates is retired, oh, and most people have better things to do than worry about being individual with their phone and ‘modding’ it (old women…? Teenage girls? Pft) just goes to show, your arrogance, ignorance and narrow-mindedness makes you the worthless, self-absorbed consumer you are. Your finishing comment is weak and vague on so many levels.

        • Ed

          Spose your house came off an assembly line? All furniture bolted down? How about your car? identical to the neighbors cept for color?

          Welcome to the iPhone world.

    • I agree.  Sure, a “perfect” piece of hardware would be great, but none exists.  Have we forgotten about the iPhone 4 call dropping fiasco?  Or, only being able to use FaceTime within the cozy confines of a wifi connection? C’mon.  There’s nothing iOS (or it’s shiny zombie host) can offer me to make me jealous.  Also, remember, we are experiencing an even more amazing platform domination story than when Apple nearly lost it all to Big Bill and MS-DOS.  MS-DOS (subsequently, Windows) has NEVER had a “perfect” piece of hardware, and it’s adoption/usage story so closely parallels Android’s that I can’t believe we don’t read more about it.

  • Anonymous

    Google need to make it compulsary that a search(magnifying glass) button should be on headsets AS STANDARD to enable hands free audio navigation/voice dialling/music commands/message dictation.

  • Nikromatt

    The above is exactly why on release of iphone 5 I will dropping whatever ransom is required and purchasing it. For the next two years I won’t have to wonder if my phone will be one of the lucky few to receive an update, it will. I won’y have to wonder if my phone will be able to handle the next couple major updates, it will. I will no longer have to try and pul my head through my ass to get the phone to sync with my computer, it will. Goodbye Android, I’d like to say its been fun… I like to say it, but I can’t.

    • Tech Hippy

      If you’ve been struggling to sync with your computer then you’ve kind of missed one of the major plus points of Android, seamless syncing with the cloud (you know, that feature that Apple are desperately trying to bring to the next iOS version).

      • Dem

        “desperately”? Where’d that come from, you jackass?

    • Daniel Nemec

      Root your phone and install a custom OS like Cyanogenmod. My phone was basically obsolete ever since I bought it a year and a half ago, but I’ve consistently been able to upgrade to the latest version thanks to the awesome mod community.

    • Ed

      You also won’t have to use your three firing braincells to use your phone since it is so simplistic.

  • Ron

    I couldn’t agree more with your lists. As a mobile web application developer, it has been extremely frustrating to be an Android fan. How can I hold my head high when everything works perfectly in Mobile Safari and shudders, skips or fails completely in Android.

    With iOS 5 finally dumping iTunes as a requirement, I am seriously considering switching camps. Ice Cream Sandwich needs to catch up to iOS in terms of polish, especially with iOS catching up to Android in terms of features.

    I think the issue is that Google has a money tree (a monopoly on search and advertising), so they don’t need Android to succeed.

    Please, Google, don’t let Android become the Windows Mobile 6.x of the future. Microsoft and RIM got complacent too, and look what Apple did to them…

  • Avatar Roku

    For the longest time I championed Android over iPhone, but the polish just never came and the ODM only made things worse. Looking at your lists its obvious that the phone platform you’re asking for already exists. Windows Phone offers a consistent UI not only across all of its devices, but all of its apps. Windows Phone Mango already has the most advanced HTML5 support on any mobile device. Microsoft keeps their ODMs and wireless carriers on a short leash only allowing them to offer specialized app hubs and limited app substores, never allowing them to alter the look and feel of the OS while still giving them the freedom to individually brand their device.

  • Thijs Koot

    understand your point and frustration, but I partly disagree.
    Yes, the iPhone 5 will be a worthy competitor again, Apple can’t afford themselves to make it what the 3GS was to the 3G, a little upgrade, worth close to nothing.
    But Google will not force any OEM to do stuff they don’t want. Let’s say for example that they obligate manufacturers to use one consistent UI. First of all, that UI would have to be awesome in order for it to succeed. Second of all, one size just doesn’t fit all. Why do you think certain people buy an iPhone, while others buy a Windows Phone or one sporting (my personal favorite!) Android? Because different people demand different things from their phones. Forcing manufacturers to do such a thing would basically turn Android into an iPhone or Windows Phone.
    Third, if Google wants OEMs to make little or no customisations, they won’t be able to keep Android open source. Open source means you can do whatever the freaking hell you want with the source, Google won’t even care if you put Android on your fridge (OK, admitted, that would be awesome.)
    The points I do agree with however, are the need of HTML5 improvements and for OEMs to make their custom UI optional, those are realistic points.

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