What happens when you create something phenomenal and then you lose control over it? You end up seeing helplessly as your efforts are modified and used by everyone. This is the case with Google right now, as its operating system has been modified by various smartphone manufacturers and the company is slowly losing its grip overs its own creation.
The Kindle Fire Phone was launched just last month by Amazon but it seems that Google’s engineers were not too keen on laying their hands on then device. The reason was pretty simple – there were absolutely no Google apps on the phone which meant No Gmail, no Maps, no Play store, no Docs and worse of all, even the default search engine was set to Microsoft’s Bing instead of Google Search. In all sense, Amazon could be the first company (after Microsoft) to bring out a major phone that is completely devoid of Google.
Now it may seem acceptable that Amazon decided to come up with a phone that did not have any of Google’s apps or services. But the fact is that without Google’s help, the Kindle Fire would never have seen the light of day! This is because the Fire runs on the open source Android Operating System which is owned by none other than Google itself. The only reason that Google has allowed hardware manufacturers to use its open source operating system for free is that the OS is suited for delivering maximum performance with its own apps. This is the money-making model for the company as the applications are used to generate income by means of direct purchases as well as in-app purchases. So, by completely eliminating Google’s apps from the Kindle Fire, Amazon has killed this strategy for the company (at least from its phone).
A recent study by ABI Research found that some 20% of the smartphones worldwide run a customized version of Android that isn’t required to carry other Google apps. So Amazon isn’t the only company that is indulging in this. There is a possibility that a small portion of these smartphones could include Google Software but there is an increasing trend where competing services are being integrated into the devices. A good example of this would be Xiaomi, which has replaced Google’s Play with its own online app marketplace.
In terms of the global smartphone market, it seems that Google has become its own largest competitor. The iOS (Apple’s proprietary OS) has a market share of only 11%. The reason that Google is losing out on the market share is that it has allowed users to use its open sourced operating system for free. As a result, everyone is practically using the Android OS as a base and then coming out with their own versions in order to gain from direct app and in-app purchases.
The root of this problem can be dated to 2007 when Google decided to grow Android’s market share as fast as possible. This was a response to the introduction of the iPhone by Apple which was believed todominate the market and eliminate Google’s products from the equation. The company officials were worried because at that time, Google did not have any mobile footprint. It was due to this insecurity that Google made Android as open sourced. If you recall, you would have seen a massive insurgence of Android based smartphones from 2007 with new OS versions being released in shorter durations with enhanced features and functionalities.
The plan seemed to work well enough with manufacturers enjoying the immense customization possibilities along with the zero costs of using the Android system. As per current statistics, almost 85% of smartphones have the Android OS. When Google perceived its operating system to be of importance to a majority of the vendors, then it introduced a threat of holding back its suite of crucial services and this was done so that the mobile manufactures would give preferential treatment to Google’s services. Up till this stage the operating system seemed to be in control.
But this control has started showing signs of weakness. The first blow to this control appeared in 2011 when Amazon had apparently released the Kindle Fire Tablet which was a precursor to the smartphone of the same name that was released this year. Users of the Kindle tablet reported that while they were able to access Google’s services from the web, the default integrations comprised Microsoft’s Bing search engine and a custom app marketplace. These were the first signs of damage for Google’s control over its own OS.
As soon as other companies were able to see this major dent, they followed suite. Alibaba’sAliyun OS was based on Android and this scared Google so much that it threatened Acer of pulling their services if the product was not dropped. While Acer complied, Alibaba remained unmoved and partnered with 5 different smartphone manufacturers.
Horace Dediu, a technology analyst and founder of the website Asymco, said, “If you’re a phone vender, you don’t just want to be in the commodity hardware business, you want to move up the value chain. This is part of a decades-long quest for vendors to differentiate and not to allow the platform owner to capture all the profits.”
Leave alone Xiaomi, it seems that even Samsung has pushed out an open challenge to the firm wherein it has come out with an all new “Magazine” user interface, which hid some Google services. It has also brought out its own App Store which further weakens the importance of the Google Play store on its devices.
The aversion to Google’s apps are only evident in the province of China where the government has implemented a censor on the search engine giant’s services. However, when phone manufacturers like Xiaomi ship out their smartphones, they do keep Google’s services and apps on the devices. Google is aware of the dangers that it faces and is willing to make certain concessions in some markets in order to keep its services active. It is part of this very agreement that Google has allowed Xiaomi to sell non-standard as well as standard Android based products. This is a win-win situation as previously the vendors could either agree to use Google’s services and implement them on all their phones, or they would be barred from using these services completely.
The situation has not turned out for the good of the company and within 5 years, the entire scenario could change. With so many independent hardware makes coming out with their own renditions of the Android based systems, it seems that the search engine giant could lose out on its grip in the smartphone segment if it does not implement strict measures immediately.
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