Will Android Go the Linux Way?

by Yuyutsu Sen on October 5, 2011

Android, Google’s mobile operating system, has much in common with Linux. Both are free and open. The operating system was initially visualized to develop into an open mobile standard. As a part of the Open Handset Alliance, Android, which was originally developed from Linux, is supported by 84 software and hardware partners. With Android, Google was making an effort to get industry consensus so as to reduce compatibility issues, increase sales and ensure long-term success. Although the search engine giant succeeded in achieving one of these objectives, the chances of attaining the remaining two seem bleak.

There is no doubt that Android helped Google boost its sales. The latest report released by Nielsen suggests that 43% of all smartphone users had an Android device. But Android remains just a utility and means different things to different brands. For instance, Amazon seems to consider Android a customizable layer, which doesn’t merit acknowledgement, universal support or branding. For Samsung and HTC, it is probably a patent mess. This can result in the downfall of Android.

In the 80s, Linux, a completely free operating system that could be sold, given away or modified at will, was considered the prized element of  open source approach. Fans believed that it would conquer Microsoft and usher in a new age in desktop computing. But while Microsoft reached the highest of success, Linux was relegated to the servers. Benefits like free, ease of use and legal modification were not enough to make Linux a success. The operating system ended up being just a utility for manufacturers that could be modified at will and now has hardly any identity among mainstream users. This indicates that consumers don’t care whether an operating system is open or not, all they care about is efficient operation.

Now Google’s Android seems to be headed the Linux way. Even the search engine giant agrees that fragmentation is a big issue. Currently different partners are making use of different versions of the mobile operating system. There is no unified schedule and the operating system is updated as desired. Consequently, the version of Android for which developers create apps and the one on which the apps are used may not be the same. In a recent survey that covered 250 Android developers, as many as 86% were concerned about this issue. 56% respondents said that the problem was ‘huge’ or ‘meaningful’. This indicates a significant increase over the past 3 months.

While Google is yet to find a solution to this issue, it has another problem on its hands. Kindle Fire, Amazon’s new tablet developed on Android, supports only the apps offered by the Amazon App Store. Making Android so open that it ended up becoming just a utility, which can be modified and consumed as desired, seems to have been a big strategic mistake on part of Google. Amazon is not only changing the objective of Android, but also the profit model on which it was developed. By promoting Android, Google wanted to gain a better understanding of consumer behavior and sell it to marketers, but Amazon’s intermediation has completely undermined this plan.

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Written by: Yuyutsu Sen. www.digitcom.ca.

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