The following article reflects my personal opinion, it does not reflect that of my employer, or the Techaeris staff.
“Don’t be like Apple.”
“That was such an Apple move.”
“Android will NEVER be like Apple.”
“Samsung is the new Apple.”
Sentiments such as these populate the social network feeds of most tech enthusiasts, with no dearth of voices to echo them. While the vocal masses and AOSP purists would hope to see Android aligned in polar opposition to Apple, I would forward a different thought. Android, and more specifically Google, needs to start behaving MORE like its chief rival.
It’s not really that radical of a leap if you look at things from a logical perspective, but first, we have to get rid of one BIG misconception that has somehow survived: Android is NOT, repeat, NOT, open source. While the original concept and the base code of the OS may remain open source, the OS currently populating hundreds of millions of handsets and tablets worldwide is very much a closed source product. By separating Google’s core services platform from the main OS, they have, effectively, closed off the real OS while still maintaining a shadow presence in the open source community. The reality remains, those that want access to Google services, play by Google’s terms.
With that established, it becomes easier to understand how Android’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. In its attempt to remain open and steer clear of large-scale hardware production, Google has created an environment where OEMs are fighting to not only gain market share from outside competitors, but from within the Android ecosystem as well. What this has created is fragmentation on not just the version level, but across the entire user base as well. To fill the void left by a lack of a clearly defined OS identity, consumers and OEMs have nowhere to turn but brand to establish recognition. With Google devoting practically nothing to driving the OS and ecosystem on the consumer level (wouldn’t a Chrome style Android commercial be nice?), OEMs have to build a customer base driven by their own branding, not Android’s. What it all comes down to is a marketplace where manufactures, all utilizing the same OS in their product lines, are forced to spend time and resources competing against each other, rather than unifying against the real competitor.
Given that business environment, is it really so surprising that the major Android hardware partners work furiously to add proprietary, closed source, features and skins, giving them a unique definition? Is it coincidental that Samsung, by far the most dominant Android partner, is also the one that has focused the most on driving consumers to its brand and ecosystem, with as little mention of Android as possible? That it is focused on delivering a consistent, single message for all consumers? That it has established itself as a pseudo-ecosystem with its own set of services? That it behaves like Apple, as a business that looks to dominate the marketplace by being first in the hearts an minds of consumers, and establishing lifelong brand loyalty? Those should be Google’s jobs, but they have fallen to the OEM, so, like any business with an interest in long term growth and sustainability, it takes care of its customers and self first.
That partner OEMs find themselves in a position of having to not only promote their own brand, but also drive the greater ecosystem is a failure on Google’s part. As the parent of Android, it should be at the forefront of marketing and establishing the brand. This is going to require more that some witty posts on G+, a solid social media manager, and good developer relations. Google needs to learn how to better communicate Android to the MASSES, something that Apple does incredibly well with iOS and OSX, and thus far Google has utterly failed at. This is the crux of the whole thing. Android has grown to the point it is now, in spite of Google’s inaction, not because of it. If the OS is going to continue to grow, Google has to become more involved, and it has to begin bearing more of the responsibility for the status of the entire ecosystem. Fast. Acting a bit more like Apple might be the best move Google could ever make.
As the man said: “That’s just my opinion, I might be wrong.”