In my last post, I mentioned that Android’s strongest feature is choice. There is a great deal of variety on both the hardware and software side. Unfortunately one company holds a monopoly over the platform: Samsung.
The debate between Android, iOS, and Windows Phone is “open vs closed.” On one side of the spectrum you have Apple and Microsoft who tightly control their respective ecosystems and maintain curated app stores. On the other side of the spectrum you have Google, which allows anyone or anything to make use of the Android platform and submit apps to the Play Store.
Why the differences? Simple. Apple makes the lionshare of its profits from hardware, and takes a cut from apps and content sold in their digital stores. Google makes money primarily from advertising, so hardware and apps are just a means to an end. Google’s motto is “the more people use the internet, the more money we make.” Both are perfectly legitimate business models.
While Google has achieved a greater market share, it has lost control of its platform. In a recent article by John Koetsier (writing in VentureBeat), he says that Google plans to heavily promote the upcoming Moto X phone - spending upwards of $500 million on the marketing campaign! If this is true, Google would be outspending Samsung to market a competing product. Samsung, along with Intel, is providing $4 million in “prizes” to encourage developers to support its upcoming Android competitor, Tizen. Samsung has captured 95 percent of Android profits, which makes it even more important to mobile than Google, says Koetsier. The fear is that Samsung will fork Android, and draw Android customers to its own (controlled) platform, much like Amazon has done.
Google realizes this danger, which is why it needs just a little bit of “Apple juice” in its business model (to quote tech journalist Mike Elgan). If Google can tighten its control over Android, and release a compelling piece of hardware to augment its Nexus lineup, it would be a huge win for Google and consumers. A phone from Google/Motorola would be guaranteed updates, be affordable (hopefully), and would provide users a vanilla Android experience - eliminating OEM clutter. It would also bring Motorola (which currently sits at an abysmal 1 percent market share) back from the dead, therefore creating more competition in the marketplace.
The famed computer scientist Alan Kay once said, “people who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” You might not agree with his assumption, but the Apple approach - building hardware and software - arguably provides the most consistent user experience. Google doesn't have to control every aspect of Android, but it does have the opportunity and assets to ensure that it has a healthy future, and doesn’t become dependant on one manufacturer.