Yesterday Google made some pretty huge announcements concerning the future of its consumer product lineup. These announcements have created buzz through the tech and mobile community with murmurs of Google taking on Apple head to head. But while Apple is Google’s ultimate endgame competitor, it’s Google’s Android partners that are in the line of fire.
Android began as an idea to make a mobile operating system that could capitalize on Google’s core business model at the time: search and serving advertisements. It was also a partnership with other companies to help bring reliable mobile software to their hardware. Through the past years, Google has picked up many Android partners along the way including Samsung, LG, Sony, HTC, Motorola and many other hardware manufacturers. The broader development community, both professional and hobbyist, have also been (in a sense) Android partners. Through these partners, Android has managed to grow, expand, and mature. It could be argued that without Google’s hardware partners and the Android community of developers, Android may have never grown into what it is today. If you look back into time you will find that many of the core features of Android were once just ideas in the development community.
Google introduced the Nexus line of phones specifically for developers to tinker and experiment with Android. It was highly encouraged. Google partnered with hardware OEMs like HTC, LG, and Samsung to make these phones. Legions of talented professional and hobbyist developers were on board and Google even provided Nexus phones to some of them. Typically, year over year, the newest version of Android was better than the last with new features and ideas from developers creeping in. Google has always left hardware OEMs to their own choices on how they treated the open-source version of Android. Through the years Android has been accused of being fragmented and disjointed due to the various versions OEMs used and the slow way they updated their devices (if ever).
Fast-forward to today and Android 7.1 is probably the most robust, functional, and stable version to date. Nougat is chock full of developer ideas fostered through independent developer circles, ideas that were shared through Github and xda-developers — all refined by Google’s developers and polished up for use in the official Android builds. Over the past year or two many of us who cover consumer technology have given credit to Android for maturing and being a very serious competitor to iOS. BlackBerry and Windows Phone haven’t seen success in battling Cupertino but Mountain View has and now they’re ready to take the battle to the streets.
Google’s new consumer focus is going to threaten their Android partners first. With this new push into Google-branded hardware to go alongside their software, services, and Play Store, Google will have to compete against other Android hardware makers before they can climb the hardware ladder. The ultimate goal is to take on Apple in both hardware, software, and services. Now that Android has matured, Google feels it is ready to combine premium hardware with its excellent software and offering up their latest software as Pixel first exclusives is a way to push consumers deeper into the Google ecosystem, leaving old partners behind.
Google Home is meant to compete against Apple’s HomeKit, Google’s version of Android against Apple’s iOS, Google Assistant pits itself against Siri and finally Google’s VR against… well nothing Apple has at the moment, Google has the advantage in that department.
In the end, if Google has their way, consumers will have two choices: Google’s ecosystem and Apple’s ecosystem. Right now as it stands, I don’t see users flocking to Pixel just yet. Google has work to do to eliminate the foothold Samsung has in the consumer market. But frankly, that foothold got significantly weaker with Samsung’s recent Note7 issues and the time is nearly perfect for Google to gain some traction with this new strategy. For Apple users, the Pixel and Google ecosystem probably isn’t going to entice them just yet. Once the Android partners have been dealt with you’re going to see the real ecosystem war be waged.
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