Is Google To Blame For The Android Fork Up?

Recently, Amazon launched the Kindle fire . Also confirmed is that the kindle Fire would be running Amazon’s own version of Android which will be fully customised to integrate with Amazon’s services. And of course – their own App Store.

Dear friends, Jeff Bezo’s Amazon has just forked Android! Amazon is not the only company forking with Android, Baidu is too. I think that is a big blow to Google’s mobile strategy,

A little background

In the early days of Android, companies like Motorola and Samsung bet their future on Android, in return for getting a ‘free’ OS which would compete with the iPhone’s. In return for the free OS they distributed Google’s services around the globe. Note: You cannot use an Android phone without a Google email account and all the services that come with it.

When the Android OS alliance was launched, Eric Schimdt said

"this will be the first fully-integrated software stack, including an operating system and middleware, being made available under the most liberal open-source license ever given to mobile operators and handset makers"

Although looking back, that statement seems technically correct (most liberal does not necessarily mean liberal, but relatively more/most liberal), handset manufacturers were soon to find out Android is not really that open.

I have always been skeptical of Google’s selfless and open initiatives. Google has this strategy (a very good one I concede) of making things free (read: lowering competitiveness of their opponents) only when they are behind. Here is an idea Larry and Sergey about being really open, can we open source the Google search algorithm? 🙂

This time around Android, I think this strategy has backfired.

The Android Fork up.

As time progressed, big hardware manufacturers realised that Android is open in a different way. It is only after a new version of Android has launched that you would have a chance to peek in. That might be ok for entities like Cyanogen mod, but not for companies that want to be at the bleeding edge, when you have companies like Apple pacing away.

Of recent, Google Android and some of its partners have been getting challenged quite a bit with patent issues. HTC is fighting Apple in various courts around the world while Samsung cannot sell their 10.1 tablet in Europe.

In the spirit of "protecting Android", Google has had to fork out (pun intended) $12.5 billion to buy the Mobile arm of Motorola, inadvertently competing directly with their partners. The CEO’s of their partner companies were so pleased with this move that they said the same thing when it was announced.

(Side Note: If Android was open why didn’t contributors and beneficiaries pool their patents? Why is it left to Google to foot the entire bill of the ‘Android defense? I guess they are really nice guys)

Now with Amazon and Baidu opening the way, I predict other companies will start forking Android left, right and center. I tip Samsung to be the next.

What this fork up might mean:

For Google: Initially, the ‘Free and Open’ strategy made sense. They could offset the cost of developing the Android OS with the money from ad’s (getting people to use Google services and displaying ad’s there) however, these forks have messed that plan up. Both Baidu and Amazon are stripping the OS from those Google applications that normally come with the Android phone. Now Google may have to pay if they want to have their search and other apps default. In the case of Baidu a search engine, the response will be LOLZ .

For Developers and Users: Presently, It seems the same Android apps run on all the different forks of Android, however, How long will it last? I predict that by a maximum of 3 versions away we would start seeing serious compatibility problems with apps. Which inadvertently means different OS’s

I am guessing this gives Microsoft an edge the down the line, to be the second most reliable OS to develop for after Apple’s. Overall, I think the good that might come out of these forking problems is that the web would be the most reliable platform for the delivery of web application services via HTML5.

So is Google’s Chrome a fall back strategy? The Gmail Chome App is done pretty well and Chrome Remote Desktop gives a glimpse of what the Chome OS can be.

Those smart chaps!

Thanks to June for helping me edit this post.

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36 thoughts on “Is Google To Blame For The Android Fork Up?

  1. I don’t think google has an interest in controlling the platform the way MS controls Windows or Apple controls iOS. I think they are content with a light amount of control – because in the end, their strategy is and has always been the pure web. So the underlying platform does not matter.

  2. I don’t think of these developments as doom & gloom for Google. If anything these forks, if they prove popular, will attract more development to the Android platform. Google’s Android market is far more successful than alternatives like GetJAR and the Amazon Appstore so it will benefit just as much, if not moreso, than any fork. Google still drives Android development so their competitors forks will lag behind their Android branch pushed by Google and enjoyed by the millions upon millions of users out there.

    1. “I don’t think of these developments as doom & gloom for Google. If anything these forks, if they prove popular, will attract more development to the Android platform.”

      Either, you are mis-reading it or I wrote poorly.

      There is be no “Android Platform” if the forks get developed independently (which they will). Once there is no longer compatibility, it is as good as having entirely different OS’s

      Oo Nwoye
      Co founder, Lotaar

    2. So are you arguing that users and/or developers will neglect Google’s version of Android? As far as developers, do you think they will stop Android development once the forks close off and become separate platforms? I find that a bit hard to believe, as they will go wherever the users are. As long as Google’s platform continues to outpace the forks in terms of userbase, the forks aren’t a huge threat. Except in the case of Android tablets, since they suck for the most part.


    3. “So are you arguing that users and/or developers will neglect Google’s version of Android? As far as developers, do you think they will stop Android development once the forks close off and become separate platforms? ”

      You answered your question here

      “they will go wherever the users are” and “Except in the case of Android tablets, since they suck for the most part.”

      I am arguing that (if things continue like this) when a company is trying to deploy an app to consumers is will ask itself

      What platform do I build on for smartphones?

      In iOS has 25%

      Windows has 20%

      and ‘Android’ has a cumulative of 35% (combining the forks of Google, Baidu, Amazon and Others)

      It would not be as a “no brainer” as it would have been if the Android was one.

    4. I guess at the end of the day, I’m just not convinced forking is a bad thing.  If Google felt differently, I doubt they would have gone the pseudo-open source route.  They had to know they would be enabling future competitors down the road.  By the way, excellent post.  I enjoyed it.

  3. Also, as long as people still connect to the web and use Google services, Google wins. There are alternative browsers in the store so their proprietary SILK browser isn’t such a threat to Google, and I’m sure people will still run Google searches, even on the SILK browser. Overall this is all good for Android.

  4. Business is like politics – no permanent enemies..and no permanent friends either. The Amazon guys had shown they were interested in having their own 100% self-owned structures/services even while partnering with Google but the Google-Motorola romance certainly provide a reason to ‘fork’ up the Amazon Google deal, stylishly.

    Samsung..hmmm..just entered a partnership with Microsoft as well to push Windows even while building on their Badu platform. Interesting you did not include Nokia..;-) who recently announced yet another OS Meltemi (after Symbian, Nokia)

    One thing though is clear, concubines have lot less loyalty than a wife. Google may find itself increasingly going alone on Android as other Android powered OEMs like Huawei may also start aligning elsewhere. Watch out for Microsoft announcements on multi-platform innovations before year end. They should take advantage of this moment if they really want a shot at displacing Android and maybe iPhone before Mankind steps on Mars.

  5. I remember when MTN launched their slogan of “MTN Everywhere You Go” people did not really understand how powerful that simple statement was until they became bigger than Vodafone/Vodacom in Africa. I was going to mention that you have not taken Chrome into account when I saw that you mentioned it at the bottom. Forks or no Forks Google will still be more ubiquitous as not everyone will Fork. I think they may have anticipated all these Forks and kept Chrome separate from Android. Remember Android is based on Webkit and same thing as Safari too. Even the Kindle reader  is a Webkit version so was not unexpected for Amazon to Fork. Now I fully understand why Google did not merge both Android and Chrome initiatives. Now, mobile, web, enterprise…everywhere you go Google will be there waiting for you… at least in some form

    1. I applaud Google for taking a multi pronged approach to this battle of the OS 2.0.

      However, they realise there is no crown for 2nd best and with Facebook breathing down along with Microsoft, I assume they would not be so pleased with the Android fork.

      I doubt they just love fighting battles.

    2. I believe their battles are chosen carefully and they could not afford to leave any flank open. They truly should be applauded for their dexterity and for taking on everyone including Apple in the handset business and maybe Toyota soon in the car business. They probably actually love fighting battles.

    3. The main question though is this:

      Is Google to blame for the forks? I am assuming Forking is a bad thing.
      Or the was no other alternative to get into the mobile OS game?

    4. To answer simply “Google Forked First”. Forking now seems to be infinite as it is not based on a proprietary platform. If we want to look for who to blame we will start from Linux Torvarlds. 

      Forking Linux was a brilliant way to get into the Mobile OS game and while Forks exist the consumer will have more choices. 

      The Real question should be is Forking bad? I however think that it is a nightmare for the hardware manufacturers and probably will be more confusing for the consumers as time goes on. They are all playing into Apple’s endgame

  6. Well till there is a better search engine than, the more internet connected devices the more money for Google… with Android getting forked around non stop , can close in to 2billion daily users and even 4billion daily users. which has always been their core power 

    1. Mambe,

      When you are playing at the level of being number 1 in the world, you have to think in decades.

      If you read the wired article where thay postulated “the web is dead”, you will see that people access the “internet” via apps and depend less ob search engines

      Even Twitter has quite a number of queries per day. When Facbook becomes serious in search that is more that Google will not be having

      Page Rank is doiminant now but its days are getting numbered. They know this which is why they planned ahead.
      On Oct 10, 2011 3:09 PM, “Disqus”

  7. Well, Google cant have it both ways. Forking comes with the terrain they had decided to play in. In the end it is one more test of the model. Congrats to Amazon; I would like to fork theirs too!! 🙂 

  8. Here are the things that will keep OEMS in check1.) Platform Entry barrier: It is notoriously difficult to build a platform Samsung, Nokia and Microsoft will attest to that. Hell, it took the combined efforts of global giants like Google, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericson, LG and HTC to get android to where it is. If anybody tries to go it alone they will fail. Amazon’s tablet will sell, however it is what it is, a tablet, a global platform can’t be built on a tablet from 1 company. The OEMs know that…2.) The OEMs are making a boatload of cash: HTC and Samsung are seeing massive sales on the back of Android, little known HTC is on its way to becoming a behemoth because of Android.3.) Emerging markets: Google is leading the rush for emerging markets, android is spreading its tentacles in India, Brazil and Africa and OEMs are riding that wave.4.) The OEMs can finally compete with and even beat the mighty Iphone (Especially with the latest Iphone 4s instead of iphone 5 release cockup) : with Android yes, with any other platform… no one knowsAt the end of the day, Android is a money spinner for its father (Google) and uncles (OEMS and developers), they will nurture and take care of it even they do small shakara (flirt with windows phone or do some development work on their own private platforms). Amazon’s and several other forks will appear and disappear but as long as it’s profitable for all concerned Google’s android will remain number 1 and forks will be only fairly relevant.In answer to your Question, in the scheme of things it doesn’t matter…

    1. Abiola,

      I did not think as platform as a barrier for entry. Nice one sir.

      However, Amazon is awesomely leveraging its ecommerce dominance in pusing her version. Remember, the numeber 1 reason for the use the tablet is digital content consumption.

      I am thinking big players can levrage their dominance in verticals they hold sway. Eg Tata (if they want to go mobile, SamSung in SE Asia )

      Ultimately, your pointing out that existing app platform as a new barrier makes a lot of sense.

      Ultimately, I believe the web will win. Do check out those chrome apps I linked to.

    2. On the iPhone matter, Apple has sold over 1million iPhone 4S copies in the first 24 hours of pre-orders. I’ve lost my right to say Apple products won’t sell 🙁

    3. Jobs sold his soul to help the 4s get to where it is considering the initial cool reception it got but Jobs dies and it goes through the roof. Bah!!! Give me an Ice Cream any day with some good hardware and am okay.

    4. Hahaha! I like Ice Creams too but I hear they’re not coming to all devices. Even previous nexus devices might not get one.. Subject: [oothenigerian] Re: Is Google To Blame For The Android Fork Up?

  9. While I don’t think Google might be smiling about Amazon’s play, I don’t think they were ignorant of it or didn’t expect it.

    That said, it is becoming clear what their plans for the android are. 

    They will use their new hardware advantage with the purchase of Motorola to push the limits of what exactly Android can become. They own android. They made it. And regardless of how open sourced and “forked” other versions of android are, theirs will always be better because it will be original.  

    As Mark said, excessive control won’t play to their business’ core strengths but the opportunity to subtly lead the Android bandwagon in the direction of more dollars for them and their business is obviously not something Google takes lightly.

  10. I don’t think Google would have adopted a liberal open source license without considering the possibility that someone would fork Android.  Allowing forks the core of what open source is about. They must have felt giving phone companies the freedom to customize Android was necessary for their success.  And since that’s exactly what Amazon has done, I don’t see any cause for alarm.

  11. I agree that Microsoft might have an edge when Apps start having compatibility problems with Forked versions of Android but by then a lot of users would have switched allegiance. We’re not expecting Microsoft to throw something new from Nokia until December. That’s pretty late 

    1. LOL my friend and I were discussing the name today. Everyone has BlackBerrys, Androids and iPhones. Windows Phone users can’t even say Mangoes because the next version is called Apollo. Such a fail
      Subject: [oothenigerian] Re: Is Google To Blame For The Android Fork Up?

    2. The versions of Android,OSX and Windows mobile are given interesting names. Icecream sandwich is the name of the next major Android version. Lion was the latest OSX

      Zune could have been a cool name for Microsoft’s mobile OS

      Oo Nwoye
      Co founder, Lotaar

    3. LOL they already failed with that brand. Metro will probably have had a better shot
      Subject: [oothenigerian] Re: Is Google To Blame For The Android Fork Up?

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