The media is rife with reports that Google is working on a program called Android Silver that is designed to force Android manufacturers into strict adherence to Google’s specifications. This is really an attempt by Google to regain control of the Android platform and to provide a more iPhone-like experience for Android users. While such goals are not bad in and of themselves, they do have the potential for some serious consequences for Google and its partners.
Computerworld has an overview of what we know so far about Android Silver.
The Information, citing four unnamed sources, this week described Android Silver (subscription required) as taking aim at the high-end iPhone, as well as Samsung and others, by requiring Android Silver phone makers to limit the number of non-Google apps that can be pre-installed, and by giving users the option to uninstall any non-Google apps.
Android Police in early April described Google’s Android Silver plan as requiring makers to run the latest version of Android with no, or very limited, customizations. The website relied on slides, allegedly from Google, that it obtained last year.
The Android Silver plan also reportedly calls for Google to pick five Silver phones at one time, and to require carriers to sell them in a special booth within their stores. There could even be a loaner phone for users losing theirs and a Google hangout assistant to provide live video tech support.
Android Silver: Chasing the iPhone
Fragmentation has always been one of the biggest criticisms of the Android platform. So many different companies make Android devices and they often customize it to suit their own business interests. This has made it harder for Google to deliver prompt updates to Android, and it has caused frustration among some Android users.
Apple’s iPhone, on the other hand, has generally been considered to be quite easy to upgrade with the majority of iPhone users easily moving from one version of iOS to another. This has clearly irritated Google and it may have caused some users to abandon Android for iOS after they experienced problems trying to update their Android phones and tablets.
So Android Silver clearly seems to be an attempt by Google to catch up to the iPhone in some ways. I don’t blame Google at all for this, it actually makes a lot of sense. Users expect to be able to easily and quickly update their devices, and that just has not been the case with some Android phones and tablets. Google knows this and it is acting to fix the problem.
But is Android Silver the right way to go about it? InfoWorld thinks that Android Silver is a very bad idea on Google’s part.
If Google really wants to control Android in the way that Apple controls iOS and Microsoft controls Windows Phone, it needs to take Android back for real.
That’s not hard. Android is only open-sourced after Google has developed it, so it’s not true open source, merely openly licensed. All Google has to do is restrict Android licenses to those companies that make no modifications. (If it had kept Motorola, it could have made its own.) The devices based on Android 4.4 KitKat and earlier are beyond Google’s control, but new versions of Android would not be. This, ironically, is essentially what Google did to Android by changing the rules on forks in Android 4, in response to Amazon’s forking of Android 3.0, on which Amazon remains stuck to this day.
It remains to be seen if Google has the willpower to do what InfoWorld is recommending. So far we haven’t seen Google willing to use an iron fist to regain control of Android and force a real standard on Android manufacturers. Android Silver seems like a halting and tentative attempt in that regard compared to a strict change in licensing.
Let’s not forget though that Google also has a major force to contend with in the Android world: Samsung.
Android Silver may destroy the Samsung and Google relationship
The relationship between Google and Samsung has never been all that great. Samsung has made a point of riding the success of Android while quietly plotting to ultimately replace it with its own mobile operating system. And Samsung has also taken Android and customized it for its own benefit, with little regard for Google’s wishes or business needs.
It would be very entertaining to be a fly on the wall during the meeting between Google and Samsung where Google lays down the law on Android Silver. I have never held Samsung in very high regard, and I doubt very much if they will care all that much about what Google has to say. Samsung is a big enough and powerful enough company to essentially give Google the finger about Android Silver.
You have to give Samsung credit though, they seem to be the company making the lion’s share of money from Android. Samsung’s phones and tablets seem to outsell anything released by Google. That, of course, has to seriously rankle Google since they created Android but users seem to prefer Samsung’s devices to those of Google.
Part of me wonders if Android Silver might be the straw that broke Samsung’s back in terms of staying with Android. It’s no secret that Samsung has wanted to control its mobile destiny with its own operating system. Maybe this will be the catalyst that gets Samsung to begin its move away from Android and over to Tizen or some other mobile OS.
Samsung may also be intent on creating an app ecosystem to rival Google’s Play store and that is yet another bone of contention between the two companies. The entire point of Android was really to promote Google’s services and products, and they took a very dim view of Amazon’s fork of Android that cut out Google entirely. But Amazon is a smaller fish in the Android pond than Samung. Can you imagine Google’s reaction to a Samsung app store? Ouch!
Android Silver is bringing change…one way or another
All of this makes me think that Android Silver may be a harbinger of big changes for the Android platform. If it succeeds then it could be a huge improvement to Android’s ability to compete with the iPhone by eliminating the fragmentation that has dogged Android since its beginning. If it fails then it may push an exasperated Google into taking the gloves off and drastically changing how Android is licensed to exclude any modifications made by other companies.
One way or another…change is coming to Android.
What’s your take on this? Tell me in the comments below.