Google Exerting More Control Over Android

Is Android becoming a victim of its own success? If attempts by Google to clamp down on the proliferation of devices is any indication, the answer may be yes.

A recent article by Bloomberg Businessweek pointed out that Google, concerned about excessive fragmentation of the Android market, is making its open-source operating system a little less open by allowing fewer tweaks to the software and more closely controlling non-Google partnerships. For instance, the story reported that Google tried to delay the release of a Verizon Android phone because it used Microsoft's Bing search engine rather than Google. It's also trying to keep partners from extensively modifying the UI and other functionality.

The tricky part for Google is that Android's open source nature is largely the reason it has rocketed to such prominence, helping it become the No. 1 smartphone OS in the United States. Having an "everything goes" attitude is good for growth, but now that Android's no longer a scrappy upstart, Google apparently feels the need to pull back the reins. Such muscle-flexing has angered some, as Bloomberg reports that complaints have been made to the U.S. Justice Dept.

On the other hand, Google may be simply responding to its developer community. A recent survey by financial services company Baird found that 73 percent of Android developers view OS fragmentation as a problem. Of that number, 53 percent said fragmentation is a "meaningful" or "major" problem; only 11 percent cited fragmentation as no problem at all.

The fragmentation issues goes beyond the core OS as well -- the same survey showed that developers are concerned about store fragmentation. Amazon recently launched its own Android app store, and Verizon has as well. "Generally, developers seem to prefer a unified, single store experience like Apple's App Store", Baird said.

It's a difficult spot for Google to be in. On one hand, customization is a key selling point of Android over Apple's iOS (which powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch). It also encourages OEMs to build on the Android platform, since there are no associated licensing costs. On the other hand, the huge variation of devices can result in a poor end-user experience, since there are so few rules for developing on the platform. That also reflects on Android.

Whatever course Google ultimately chooses, developers are likely to be watching closely, especially with options like iOS and Windows Phone 7 to consider.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.