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Could Google’s vendor crackdown backfire?

Apr 4, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Google's reported decision to more tightly police its Android platform could improve overall quality, but runs the risk of losing vendors to Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, say analysts. Meanwhile, despite the release of the iPhone 4 on Verizon, Android kept building U.S. market share in February, growing to a leading 33 percent, says ComScore.

When it first hit the marketplace, the Google-backed Android had a lot to offer smartphone manufacturers looking for an operating system capable of tackling Apple's iPhone: It was open source, license-free, and amenable to being "skinned," or modified to suit the needs of a particular carrier or hardware vendor.

But Google itself — concerned about platform fragmentation and competing against Apple's tightly integrated software-hardware stack — is reportedly attempting to bring a little more law and order to Android's Wild West. according to a Bloomberg Businessweek report (and more briefly, Digitimes). Both reported last week that the search engine giant's Android group is now demanding approval for anything companies do with the platform's code. 

According to Businessweek, some of its unnamed vendor sources said they had posted complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice over Google's recent strong-arm pressure over adding skins and other issues. According to the story, Google is hoping to withhold licensing of popular Google apps for Android in order to to force vendors to offer a pure Google experience on their Android devices (such as found on its own Samsung-built Samsung Nexus S).

Businessweek also quoted Nokia CEO Stephen Elop as saying, "The premise of a true open software platform may be where Android started, but it's not where Android is going." Nokia recently chose Windows Phone 7 as the software for its smartphones, which the Finnish manufacturer says will save on research and development costs.

Google offered no comment when asked by eWEEK about its Android control plans. If verified, however, Google's decision could have wide-ranging effects on its competitors, according to analysts. Together with Google's recent decision to delay the public release of Android 3.0 "Honeycomb") code, the reports of Google crackdowns on code customization have been met with anger and "we-told-you-so" cynicism in open source forums.

However, the mainstream tech-business press and analyst community has generally applauded the moves as necessary in the cut-throat mobile arena. Others, such as AndroidCommunity, suggest that the charges made by the unnamed vendor sources are largely overblown.

Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC, epitomizes the general favorable response to the Google crackdown. "In the short term, [Google's decision] re-enforces the notion that there are some quality issues for the Android app portfolio," Hilwa wrote in an April 1 email to eWEEK. "These are the result of lightweight automated procedures around app approval and we have seen the negative effect in terms of usability, privacy and security."

Relatively loose standards exacerbated Android's fragmentation issues, Hilwa added. This in turn harmed "the perception of quality and value which ultimately determines the profitability of the devices and success of apps for developers." Manufacturing partners may balk at tighter Google control, "but in the long term it is in their interest," he wrote.

Hilwa and others have argued that Google's recent moves will help strengthen Android Market. As a result it could give the app platform more parity with Apple's App Store and help blunt any competitive momentum for similar online storefronts from Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Research In Motion.

Malware is another growing problem for Android, as detailed in this Apr. 3 Wayne Rash analysis piece in eWEEK. Rash notes, however, that the iPhone and other mobile platforms are far from secure, as well.

Will Google's tough love for Android backfire?

While Google's more muscular approach toward vendors has received a largely favorable response, there's also the view that Google's decision will depth-charge its whole business model.

"Google's value proposition was that they would be vastly easier to deal with than Microsoft and let the vendors better differentiate," Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group, wrote in an April 1 e-mail to eWEEK. "They found that this led to a lot of crap being released on the market and they sucked at vendor collaboration. They are now rethinking that approach by being even more controlling."

Enderle believes Google's attempts will ultimately backfire. "In effect Google, after failing at being different from Microsoft, is going to try and beat Microsoft at Microsoft's own game. That virtually never works, which will likely force them to get closer and closer to Apple's model."

The end result, he added, is a failure in the making: "Rather than figuring out how to make their idea work they are killing it by being too unwilling to form more cooperative relationships with their OEM partners."

Walking the middle ground is Constellation Research analyst R "Ray" Wang, who wrote in an April 1 email, "There will be many models. Google's going after open. Apple is closed but ubiquitous. It all puts pressure on Microsoft to define what the middle ground is."

Before news of Google's (possible) decision hit the web, IDC issued a report suggesting that Windows Phone 7, thanks to that alliance with Nokia, will surpass both Research In Motion's BlackBerry and Apple's iOS to become the second-ranked smartphone operating system in the world by 2015, lagging only behind Android.

"Up until the launch of Windows Phone 7 last year, Microsoft has steadily lost market share while other operating systems have brought forth new and appealing experiences," Ramon Llamas, an analyst with IDC, wrote in a March 29 report. "The new alliance brings together Nokia's hardware capabilities and Windows Phone's differentiated platform."

Will the Nokia alliance, combined with Google's more stringent rules, affect other manufacturers' decisions about embracing Windows Phone 7 as a platform of their phones? Time will tell. Nokia may be its savior next year, but Windows Phone 7 is still losing share in the U.S. this year, according to ComScore (see below).

The only certain thing at this point is that, after several quarters of embracing Android as a rights-free, endlessly customizable platform, the party seems to be over for many of those manufacturers — and both Apple and Microsoft will likely feel themselves affected by the ripples.

ComScore: Android withstands Verizon iPhone launch

Despite all the Android-related controversy — and lawsuits — confronting Google, Android just keeps on rolling, says the latest monthly report from ComScore, as reported in more detail by eWEEK. Android continue to lead the market with 33 percent share, up two points from ComScore's count of 31.2 percent share in January, says the report.

RIM's BlackBerry was said to have retained the second spot, but slipped to 28.9 percent from 30.4 percent in January. Thanks in large part to the Verizon launch of the iPhone 4, Apple iOS grew to 25.2 percent share in February, up from 24.7 percent through January, says ComScore. Still, iOS remained in third place ahead of Windows Phone, which fell to 7.7 percent share through February, down from 8 percent in January.

Nicholas Kolakowski is a writer for our sister publication eWEEK.

This article was originally published on and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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