Google – Closed source.

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I think Google may make Android proprietary in 2017.

  • Google is getting ready to launch Android N but without the ability to distribute updates, the software is virtually useless.
  • Developer conference season kicks off this month with Microsoft Build on 30th March to 1st April and ends in early June with Apple’s WWDC.
  • Developer conferences are now far more important than device launches or even trade shows, because it is at these conferences that the ecosystem developments and roadmaps are announced.
  • For example it is at WWDC where Apple’s plans for HealthKit, HomeKit and iOS10 will be announced and it is at Google i/o where the new versions of Android are discussed.
  • As the conferences approach, details inevitably begin to leak and it is looking like Google will once again make incremental updates to Android while ignoring the elephant in the room which is its ongoing inability to update its software (see here).
  • This problem is so severe that only a tiny percentage of Android handsets are ever updated meaning that to get new software, the user has to buy a new device.
  • Android L (5.0) is currently on just 34.1% of Google’s Android devices despite having been available for around 18 months which corresponds to the penetration one would expect with virtually no updates being made.
  • This is a massive problem because it means that any innovations that Google makes to Android to compete against iOS, Windows or China will take 4 years to fully penetrate into its user base.
  • In my opinion this renders the innovation worse than useless as it will be fully visible to the competition who can copy it and get it into the market long before Google can.
  • This is why I think that Google has to take complete control of Android culminating in the migration of the Android Run Time (ART) from the Android Open Source Package (AOSP) into Google’s own proprietary Google Mobile Services (GMS).
  • Its recent loss in its war with Oracle (see here) has given Google the perfect excuse to close down its version of Android and blame Oracle when developers complain.
  • I don’t think that this is likely to happen this year, but in 2017, I see the possibility for Android to follow its little brothers Android Auto and Android Wear in becoming fully closed and proprietary.
  • This would allow Google to roll everything up into a single release and distribute it through Google Play thereby fixing the endemic fragmentation and distribution problems in one go.
  • A knock-on effect of this move will be that device makers will have even less flexibility with regards to hardware as their ability to optimise the software to run on the hardware they have chosen will have been removed.
  • Consequently, I think that Google may start building handsets itself and my initial research indicates that a hardware team has been assembled in San Diego.
  • The problem for the long suffering handset makers is that they have nowhere else to go and I suspect they will be forced to swallow whatever Google offers them.
  • The net result of this could be the development of an alternative to Android using the Amazon app store but I am not hopeful as industry initiatives of this kind have always ended in failure.
  • The other issue is that Google has already been seeded into many emerging markets where it is almost impossible to sell a device without Google Play even if there is a perfectly good alternative.
  • Consequently, Google has little to lose and everything to gain by taking this route as RFM estimates that it will risk the growth of the entire company if it does not.
  • Google has had a very strong run recently and the company still has some momentum although I need to see concrete action on these issues before becoming more comfortable on the long term.
  • I prefer Microsoft and Samsung for the immediate term while Apple looks like a safe place to park capital despite its lack of growth.