Smith began as an agent, an AI program in the Matrix destined to keep order within the system by terminating troublesome programs and humans, which would otherwise bring instability to the simulated reality. Smith is significantly more open from the start, seeming far more intelligent, adaptable and destructive than other agents. At the end of the first Matrix movie, Smith appears to have been destroyed by Neo, but he makes a calculated return with somewhat altered motivations and abilities. The Matrix has lost control of Smith – he can no longer be forcibly sent to the system source to be deleted. This process makes him into a renegade program with the ability to make uncontrolled and non-conforming copies of himself, rather than simply having the ability to switch between bodies, as normal agents are able to. Smith is now threatening the very stability of the Matrix…
Google’s motivation behind Android is a very controversial topic, but we can all agree that behind the simulated reality of “free-for-all openness”, lies a calculated set of control points to bring to the masses a platform that would extend the reach of Google’s main source of revenue: advertising. At first glance, it looks like Android is doing a pretty good job at that. Google made plenty of partners (both carriers and handset makers) and acquired a very strong developer support. Armies of Android-powered or Android-based devices of all shapes and sizes hit the market every day. At its base, Android is a customizable low-level operating system that is perfectly suited for embedded devices. It has built-in support for networking and familiar user tools that can easily be integrated into a higher-level application ecosystem. With Google’s acquisition of Admob, the mobile-ad sales market is growing faster than anything we’ve ever seen. A new report from analyst firm Piper Jaffray even suggests that in the long run, Android is going to be the OS running on around 50% of the Smartphone market. So it seems all is going as planned for Google? Not quite…
"You hear that Mr. Schmidt?… That is the sound of inevitability…"
Over the past few months, the Tech world has been imploding over Android’s openness. MG Siegler’s Techcrunch article on the topic created a riot of comments (over 1000 replies, 3500 tweets and 2000 Facebook shares) all over the blogosphere. Fan-boyisms aside, the fact IS that Android is breaking itself free from Google…and as in the Matrix, users are starting to wake up to the simulated reality of the Android landscape.
Since July, just to cite a few, we have faced four major releases with four different firmwares: Droid X launched with Android 2.1, Droid 2 followed with Froyo, Dell Streak shamelessly displayed Android 1.6 and then came along Dell Aero with the egregious Android 1.5. Of course, users are always promised updates to the newer version but in an environment driven by a different set of priorities and incentives, they are often faced with the short end of the stick (e.g. Samsung Behold II). Complaints of fragmentation across versions of Android are nothing new; the question is: is this a problem for Google? The short answer to that question is “yes” but the long version is far more convoluted.
In the short term, Android is making a whole lot of people a whole lot of money. Android, single handedly gave life back to Motorola and increased HTC’s earnings by 58%. Verizon is cashing in off AT&T’s iPhone exclusivity deal. The real problem is that customers are not going to come back to Android if they keep being lured into different versions of the OS. A lot of Android users are feeling shafted and once their contracts are up they will most likely want to switch to a more stable OS. Handset makers are the only ones able to fix this problem but where is the urgency? Why devote valuable time and investments into a phone that you have already sold? Wouldn’t you rather have your engineers focus on the newer upcoming version to boost your future earnings? Result: some new devices are released with Android OS versions as old as 18 months…
"Mr Schmidt, welcome back. We missed you…Like what I’ve done with the place?"
Now, let’s take a look at what is happening outside the U.S. and Canada. In China, the world’s largest mobile market, officially sanctioned versions of Android are flourishing, starting with last year’s Ophone OS from state-owned China Mobile. Motorola is also developing a line of Chinese flavors for Android with Baidu as the default search engine (ouch!). In Europe, French newspaper Lefigaro reported last week that heads of France Telecom-Orange, Deutsche Telekom (Germany), Telefonica (Spain) and Vodafone (UK) met to discuss the possible creation of customized common platform for mobile devices based on Android.
In the tablet market, manufacturers are making their own versions of a compatible Android-based OS to fight Apple’s iPad (e.g. Samsung Galaxy tab) even though Google’s view is that Android is not suited for tablets. But guess what? They don’t need Google’s benediction to act on their impulses. Will this affect Android and Google’s reputation in the tablet market? You bet!
Sadly, fragmentation amongst versions of Android is the least Google has to worry about nowadays. Agent Android has now acquired the ability to duplicate Google’s very own app marketplace. The symbiotic relationship between manufacturers and carriers is coming to an end. Carriers have now realized that they can exploit the open-source nature of Android to their own advantage. Verizon is expected to launch it’s own V CAST App store on Android – and the new store will exist outside of the Google Marketplace. Verizon could in this way sell some valuable mobile real estate to the highest bidder (just as it recently did shoving Bing into Android phones). The trend has been set and we can expect a lot more companies to follow. Rumor has it Amazon is also going to launch its own Android app Marketplace – now Google should worry about this one! Amazon has a lot of experience running online stores – more so than Google, or even Apple for that matter.
"Can you feel it, Mr. Schmidt, closing in on you? Oh, I can"
So what does all this mean in the long term? Android users will soon have (on top of pre-loaded apps on their devices) to shop around different app stores with possibly different products and price structures. For things to really work for them, maybe there should be one kind of device, one OS version and one App store (sounds familiar?). Nexus One was Google’s attempt at that but the experiment failed and Agent Android is now in the wild making copies of himself and gaining new abilities and powers that are often not in Google’s own interest. The stability of Google’s Matrix is now threatened and they need The One to save it. Will it be a new phone? New OS? New licensing terms? Or maybe a full system reboot? (worked for the Matrix…and Facebook). The fact remains that cracks are starting to show and Google needs to get their act together and clean things up – it is not too late.