It Is Only A Matter of Time before Google Exerts More Control over Android

It’s only a matter of time before Google starts to feel that it should exert more pressure on its device manufacturing partners. In fact, this is happening right now (for reasons I’ll get into). I’ll posit that ODM’s (Original Equipment Manufacturers) need Google more than Google needs them (for now).

Presently it may seem preposterous that Google could continue to do well with Android if it didn’t have Samsung, or perhaps HTC to a lesser extent. When Google purchased Motorola mobility last year, they made a clear statement that they had no plans to screw over (obviously I’m not quoting verbatim here) their partners. The reality is Google needs to do something about the fragmentation of the platform. Most people seem to be cognizant of this as well outside of Google — be it third party developers or tech savvy consumers.

We may not see massive change overnight, but it feels as if things will incrementally change from here on out. First it’s an acquisition of a substantial mobile phone company (Motorola), and then it’s Google selling their own devices directly to consumers — sans carrier contract.

Amir Efrati reporting for the WSJ:

Google will work with as many as five manufacturers at a time to create a portfolio of “Nexus” lead devices that include smartphones and tablets, said a person familiar with the matter. Google also plans to sell the gadgets directly to consumers in the U.S., Europe and Asia through its website, and potentially through some retailers, this person said.

This strikes me as the smart and correct thing to do. Sure, this won’t solve the fragmentation issue overnight — quite the contrary, it will never be fully eliminated unless Google takes full control over the manufacturing of the hardware and software.

I’m sure Google in the present day loves their device partners, but this can change quickly. What Samsung has done to propel Android as a platform can’t be ignored. The sheer number of Android devices Samsung sells makes it one of the top mobile phone manufacturers. If I were at Google, I would be devising ways of how the company could slowly start to push third party ODMs out of the way. Envisage what Android could be like if Google fully owned the hardware and software experience, from top to bottom? Indeed some may be thinking right now that this would mean far too much control, and that Android wouldn’t be “open” enough. I posit that a fully owned experience by Google could still retain the more flexible nature of Android that the company initially envisioned and conceived. This could happen, all whilst keeping the operating system a complete and cohesive experience — sans carrier app bloat and third party skins messing around with the pure Android experience. There’s zero reason why having full control over the hardware and software experience means that Google would suddenly make Android less flexible to tinkering.

Another part worth citing from this WSJ piece:

Carriers also are sometimes slow to push through software updates to phones, and they preload apps of their own choosing on devices. By avoiding carriers, Google and its hardware partners can get devices to market faster, often by several months.

They’re sometimes slow to push through software updates? Try always. Carriers couldn’t care less about support existing customers. Instead of pushing out software updates, they would rather you just buy a new phone. This is the sad world many Android customers are facing today. This also isn’t just about Google being able to push out devices to market faster though. The much bigger picture is that Android users will be infinitely more happy with updated devices, rather than getting screwed on after sales support twelve months onward. And Google will no doubt love ensuring that these same people are experiencing Android the way it’s meant to be — to wit, with the latest and most innovative UI and UX to come out of their labs.

Small baby steps are needed to get Google to where they need to be. They know they can’t pull the plug on their partners right now — lest face their pure unadulterated wrath. But perhaps selling their own devices directly to customers, as well as owning Motorola mobility will put them in a position of power one day. Perhaps now it may seem foolhardy of me to think things will change in the not to distant future, however, I’d honestly love to see Android evolve in the right direction as a beautiful alternative to iOS. This is not a matter of Google not having enough talent to pull it off — after all, Ice Cream Sandwich was a massive step in the right direction. The herculean task Google is faced with right now is fully controlling Android’s destiny — something that seems slightly ambiguous to me considering the plethora of different devices with different versions of the operating system available today.