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Google is losing control of Android (betanews.com)
48 points by ryandvm 804 days ago | comments


jroseattle 804 days ago | link

I completely disagree with the article author's premise that Google must "regain control" of Android.

The whole idea (according to the author) is that the strategy of open-sourcing Android would serve as a platform for offering other Google services around all these other devices in an effort to compete with Apple. I doubt that was Google's plan, but if it was, what a phenomenally bad plan.

My favorite statement: "Google could take full control of Android, by not releasing future versions to open source and changing licensing terms."

Yeah, that would be a great way to compete with iOS -- by restricting access to future versions of the software? What nonsense.

Any manufacturer building on Android was not doing so to become a lackey for Google services, plain and simple. Hence, Samsung and Amazon. The fact that those two companies are now dominating the distribution numbers for Android devices doesn't make Android less successful or endangered -- it only promotes it. And that's good for Google.

Again, I doubt Google is thinking about Android along these lines. However, I'd sure like to be in the room to hear the Android team respond to this author.

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ellyagg 804 days ago | link

You must not be familiar with some of the history of Google's management of Android. It is documented beyond argument, including through leaked internal emails, that Google sets Android policies intended to control vendors. This is, for example, the reason for the "delayed open source" strategy.

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cargo8 804 days ago | link

I'll admit that I TL;DRd around the middle, but I have trouble believing that the Kindle's customized Android OS is the driving factor in its initial market success.

It's much more likely to be the fact that it is supported by Amazon's ecosystem (which is alluded to as a comparison to Apple) and the fact that it debuted at an unheard of price ($200) for quality tablets, and ended up really pushing the market price of tablets in general down.

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nextparadigms 804 days ago | link

Yeah, it's not the UI. It's not that great of a UI. It's the $200 price combined with good marketing and the promise that you have access to a lot of content on it, be it books, music or videos.

If someone would compare them rationally, they'd see that a "real" Android tablet that costs around the same would have almost no disadvantage and a lot of advantages compared to Kindle Fire: a lot more apps, higher flexibility for anything, better browsers, app sideloading, and on top of all that, they'd also have all of Amazon's services:books, music and videos. So a $200 Kindle Fire would have almost nothing over a $200 Android tablet.

The only problem is that so far none of the manufacturers did that great all-encompassing marketing for a single tablet that offers you a lot of "benefits" and not a list of specs. Amazon did that, and they saw success. I'd like to see at least Google do that with their upcoming (rumored) Nexus tablet.

Being the first to $200 for a tablet that was seemingly as high-quality (or close enough) to an iPad 2, was a big first mover advantage for Amazon, too. A Google tablet that is $200, or even $150, would help. But it might get the same level of impact only if Google is the first to a "quality" tablet that costs only $99. If Google would do that first and promote the heck out of it and what you can do with it, I think many millions of people would want one.

I doubt they could do it this year, but early next year with the 2nd generation it might be possible. But they better do it before Amazon. Because Amazon will definitely go that direction, since their intention is to only sell a massive amount of such devices, to get users to pay for their content.

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ImprovedSilence 804 days ago | link

The problem with that is, Amazon can sell hardware at a loss, fully expecting to make up the cost from people purchasing wares (books/music/anything on amazon) on their devices. While Google does make money from the Android ecosystem, I doubt it's enough/direct enough, to begin selling hardware at a loss.

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davidw 804 days ago | link

Yep. I think if anything, the hacked version of Android is a drawback to the Fire. I know that I find the lack of the Google apps, and the 'real' Android market quite annoying. I suppose 'ordinary user' types of people probably don't notice as much, but I still see it hard for even a giant like Amazon to overcome the momentum behind the 'real' Android.

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protomyth 804 days ago | link

The problem comes when the Kindle Fire is the most common tablet Android, and the rest of the Android tablets are seen as the "hacked / incompatible" versions. Given the Kindle Fire is now over 50% of the Android tablets sold[1], that might not be a long time. Citi's recent announcement of its Kindle Fire app[2] tends to worry me.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/adriankingsleyhughes/2012/04/27/...

[2] http://www.marketwatch.com/story/citi-launches-first-banking...

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huggyface 804 days ago | link

This is the most critical observation. The Kindle Fire could have come with QNX and done well with the hooks into Amazon's media empire. That it came with Android is hardly a dire straight for Android -- it builds the same developer base, accustoms users to Android apps, etc.

This is yet another They Gonna Get You Google! article of the sort that we've seen since the days that Android was a pretty sucky wannabe. It is weird that -- with all the success that Android has seen -- people can keep with the same song list as if nothing as changed.

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casca 804 days ago | link

Before Android came out, each vendor had their own OS. Google doesn't care about the OS, they just want a platform that will allow users to consume their services.

In order to convince the manufacturers that they should switch from something they completely controlled to something that another company controlled, they needed to know that it would be cheaper and still allow them to generate a strong brand loyalty.

For example, HTC has the Sense UI which makes their Android phones look and feel a little different. You might think that this is a stupid waste of HTC's time, but in 2 years when you get a new phone, they want you to get an HTC, not an Android.

This is critical in understanding why Google cannot tightly control Android. If the phone manufacturers see that they're losing the ability to differentiate their own brand, they'll look at other options.

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AkeleHumTum 804 days ago | link

> Before Android came out, each vendor had their own OS.

... which was Symbian. Android in the new Symbian - omnipresent but much more capable.

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trotsky 804 days ago | link

It's refreshing to know that all it takes to develop a winning mobile OS strategy is a BA in journalism.

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GuiA 804 days ago | link

Thank you for that much necessary snark. It's tiring to read articles on tech sites by people who have never really worked in tech (reporting about tech is not working in tech, much like writing movie reviews does not make you a film maker) who think they know better than everyone else.

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jusben1369 804 days ago | link

Me too! I hate it when those investigative journalists try and cover a serial murder investigation. I only want to hear from other serial murderers on the topic. Writing about serial murder is just not the same as having actually been one.

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GuiA 804 days ago | link

Covering a murder != saying "that's how the murderer should proceed for his next victim" :)

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dquigley 804 days ago | link

This article while citing some legitimate concerns fails to recognize that Google wins as the mobile platforms being used continue to support Google Advertising. From what I understand Google's biggest goal for Android is to keep one company from becoming an monopoly and as a result keeping Google out of the business of advertising to those consumers.

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msabalau 804 days ago | link

Indeed. Google was already "won". Anything more in the mobile space is just a cherry on top.

Even with tablets, Google is far better off with there being two players successful in this space, rather than it being just Apple and irrelevant "also rans" from Samsung, etc. Given the understandable lack of carrier interest in subsidizing tablet marketing, Amazon stepping up to the plate is probably the most cost effective win Google could hoped for.

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Aissen 804 days ago | link

Ok, so on the conclusion:

- Nexus tablet is on the way, don't worry, Google will put it out.

- Chrome is already on Android, and the codebases are being merged right now in the chromium tree.

- Chrome will never be on iOS as long as Apple doesn't change the rules. Simply because it can interpret other programs via internet (with javascript) and this is forbidden by iTunes TOS.

- we might see a preview of Android 5 at Google I/O, but will have to wait the end of the year to see it ship.

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frio 804 days ago | link

With respect to your third point, there are already a stack of other browsers on iOS. I don't see why Chrome would explicitly be excluded, compared to them.

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X-Cubed 804 days ago | link

I believe all the existing iOS browsers are just wrappers around a Safari web view. While Chrome and Safari do have a lot in common through their Webkit heritage, I doubt Google would bother shipping a build of Chrome for iOS, if it was limited to being a re-skin of Safari.

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__float 804 days ago | link

This is not the case for Opera.

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Aissen 804 days ago | link

Because, AFAIK, it's Opera Mini, not Opera Mobile. Opera Mini doesn't do any JS client-side. I'm not even sure it does all the rendering client side (needs Opera's servers to work).

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mertd 804 days ago | link

http://betanews.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Tablet-foreca...

This graph is apparently from the Forrester report quoted in the article. How does one come up with this? So in 2015, Windows8 (9?) will all of a sudden gain some good traction at the expense of Android market share but not iOS? How do you interpolate constant demand for iOS devices 4 years into the future when the first iPad is only 2 years old?

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pspeter3 804 days ago | link

I think the issue with Android is that without CyanogenMod, most android users would have no way to go to the stock experience that Google has designed

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nextparadigms 804 days ago | link

That's why I'm hoping that starting at least with 2013, all of Motorola's devices will use stock Android. It would make no sense to have a separate division inside of Motorola that once the Android team develops a certain version of Android, then it runs through them so they add more modifications before they release it to market. They should just use it as it is from the Android team, and ship it to market fast.

It would even be a (pretty major) competitive advantage if you think about it, considering nobody does that, and there are quite a lot of people that want stock Android. The other manufacturers have no reason to complain, since they can always do the same, too. And if they were so against a stock version of the OS, they would have never used WP7. But they did, so that tells me that they wouldn't be that upset about it.

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msabalau 804 days ago | link

To build on this point, once stock versions of Android are generally available, having a non-stock version of Android would only be an advantage to manufacturers if they were adding something of genuine value to consumers, or to a segment of consumers.

Of course, the carriers will still find it in their interest to shove bloatware onto people.

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ericd 804 days ago | link

I think the last part hit it on the head. The average android phone buyer likely isn't savvy enough to know the difference while doing a quick run-through in the store, and the manufacturers know this. Bloatware increases their razor thin margins, so they're strongly incentivized to put it on there.

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talentdeficit 804 days ago | link

if google gives privileged access to android to motorola (earlier access to os builds for testing, for example), that's just going to motivate samsung, htc, sony etc to differentiate further, as they will have a disadvantage in time to market

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georgemcbay 804 days ago | link

Nobody is advocating that Motorola get early access, just that they don't waste time building custom UIs on top of stock Android.

If Google ships the OS code to all partners (including Motorola) at the same time and Motorola just worries about getting the OS running on their hardware while everyone else worries about that plus porting their own custom UI toolkits over, that's a win for Motorola, but not because they got the code any sooner.

The win is due to the other partners wasting time competing on something that most users don't care about or if they do, actually prefer stock Android, at least IME and at least since 2.2. Earlier versions of Android than 2.2 actually had some UI warts worth fixing but now the custom UIs are generally inferior to stock and exist pretty much solely due to inertia against abandoning them and company politics, IMO.

If the hardware manufacturers really want to differentiate themselves they should do so via hardware, form-factors, novel input methods (like the Galaxy Note) and add-ons (like Playstation compatibility in Sony's case), not by messing with the core UI.

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jsz0 804 days ago | link

Google's inability to get new software into user's hands is definitely going to be a problem going forward. I'm actually surprised it hasn't burnt them worse already. Take ICS for example. It was a very good update for Android yet by the time it reaches even 25% marketshare iOS6 and Windows Phone 8 will probably be out. It's quite possible iOS7 will be released before ICS/JB comprise even 50% of the Android market. Is that really sustainable?

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zanny 804 days ago | link

This I feel the meat of the problem. When it is easier to upgrade an IOS device over a Windows PC, and Apple supports the same devices for longer than Android (which being a tiny bit open source opens up easy backporting) it is strange that people wonder why no one likes classic Android as much.

Hint: When Siri came out, everyone with a Droid phone wanted it too. When the feature complete competitor comes out in full force, probably in Android 5? they will all be hilariously frustrated with how they can't use it because they have a 2 year old phone.

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myko 804 days ago | link

Any reason Google's Siri counterpart would be limited to new versions of the OS? Most (all?) of Google's core apps are available on older versions of the OS.

In fact I'm not sure I understand why Siri isn't available on the iPhone 4/iPad 2, etc.

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cpeterso 804 days ago | link

If Google cared supporting users on old devices, they could continue to add features to apps on old OS versions (even if they can't get carriers to push OS updates). Consider that Google's Chrome Beta I'd only available for ICS.

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huggyface 804 days ago | link

Google's inability to get new software into user's hands is definitely going to be a problem going forward. I'm actually surprised it hasn't burnt them worse already. Take ICS for example.

Google is endlessly iterating their core service applications - mapping, navigation, voice recognition, gmail, places, and so on. With Chrome they are quite welcomely decoupling the browser (long overdue), though that is one of the only major dependencies on ICS.

The notion that the operating system needs to iterate for Google to move the base forward is not accurate.

Which is interesting seeing the focus on ICS, which makes me wonder whether we're past the point of diminishing returns. People desperately wanted each of the prior iterations because they fixed fundamental flaws in the operating system (e.g. slow runtimes, bloat, etc). From Gingerbread to ICS, however, is largely a "meh" affair on smartphones. Of course new devices come with it, but for the existing base it just isn't that compelling.

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cageface 804 days ago | link

The crucial fix in ICS is that it finally provides hardware accelerated rendering of the UI. This is going to go a long way towards finally silencing the complaints about Android being slow and unresponsive.

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huggyface 804 days ago | link

The crucial fix in ICS is that it finally provides hardware accelerated rendering of the UI

Honestly I see virtually no difference between 2.3 and 4.0 on the Galaxy S II when it comes to scrolling, etc. Indeed, if you turn on the development option that blinks the screen red when the main thread is blocked, it occurs all the time in the basic operating services and in most apps.

Which correlates with the argument made by Hackman (? Hackwell?) regarding GPU offloading not being the actual issue: Instead it's the OS still not, essentially, giving enough respect to the UI. This still isn't a solved problem, beyond simple brute-forcing it (e.g. a HTC One X).

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colig 803 days ago | link

IIRC the Galaxy S II has had hardware acceleration from the start, provided by Samsung's modifications.

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huggyface 803 days ago | link

Only the browser featured hardware acceleration. They couldn't unilaterally add it to apps -- the big benefit of ICS -- as there are limitations once you go to the hardware renderer.

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geoffhill 804 days ago | link

> Google could take full control of Android, by not releasing future versions to open source and changing licensing terms. The logic: Android is too big to fail, that OEMs would have no other choice but align their customized platforms with the broader Android ecosystem.

There is yet one more option for Google: instead of moving towards more copyright, move towards copyleft. At the very least, requiring derivative source code to be published would allow the various Android derivatives to build off the work from each other, and allow work to be reintegrated back into the core. Taking it even further, prevention of hardware restrictions on software modification (GPLv3) would encourage modifying and swapping Android derivatives.

Again, Google has to worry about adoption if they make their license more restrictive (and GPLv3 is definitely more restrictive for the makers of derivative works). But if they continue to release excellent software, and there continues to be a lack of viable alternatives, they might get away with it.

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btipling 804 days ago | link

I wish Google would add some of its apps to the Amazon App Store so I can have a nice gmail reader on my Kindle Fire.

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Stochasticity 804 days ago | link

You should be able to install g-apps from .apk - It's possible to do on other android devices and unless amazon did something curious to the Fire it shouldn't be any different. There are gmail, calendar and other google apks floating around that you could use.

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CrazedGeek 804 days ago | link

Except you lose out on (semi-)automatic updates. If you want to get the Market (and thus, GApps), there's a handy little Windows utility to do just that: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1399889

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ktizo 804 days ago | link

Losing control of android could be a boon to Google, they could focus on core development more and the android ecosystem would be even more scalable.

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cnbeuiwx 804 days ago | link

You mean we wont have someone tracking us, watching us, recording us 24/7 anymore? What a shame.

Google is creepy. I think the web would be better off without their prying eyes. Specially since they are in bed with the US government just like everybody else in America.

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