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.