We need competition for “Google” Android.
There are a huge number of articles which explain the problems of any single company controlling a product that many others rely on, and last decade the problem became so evident with web browsers that the EU felt the need to force the dominant company (Microsoft) to advertise alternatives from competitors, so with Android fast becoming the dominant mobile OS it’s probably time we should think about how we can avoid ending up in a similar situation with Google and Mobile as we were with Microsoft and Browsers. If you’re wondering what could happen with a Google controlled mobile world, it’s worth reading the recent post on Why the World Needs OpenStreetMap, and then considering that Maps is only one of the many apps Google controls on the Android devices most consumers buy.
If you think innovation isn’t being stifled already it’s worth reading up on how, in 2012, Acer felt Googles wrath, or take a look at the documents involved in the SkyHook lawsuit from 2011. To me both show how valuable the Google apps have become and how Google can use access to them to control the products we can buy.
There are three basic non-hardware elements that a mobile device needs to compete on a serious level with the existing offerings; Content, Internet Services, and an OS. Every device needs an OS, so that is an obvious requirement. These days not having Email, a browser with search, and some data backed services like News and Weather and share prices will make a device too unappealing to have a chance with consumers. Likewise, consumers expect content; They’re used to having Music, Videos, Apps, etc. available, and so content is a must for a device to be competitive.
So this brings us to the issue of where these will come from if not from Google.
As you’ve probably guessed from the title, imho, the most prominent candidates are Amazon, Yahoo, and CyanogenMod Inc.
Amazon has the content. They’ve been making content available on the Kindle Fire for a number of years, and, although their app catalogue is not as extensive as Googles, they do have stricter quality controls, so it could be argued that users may find it a less confusing experience with a better outcome. Last year Amazon expanded their app store to nearly 200 countries, which should cover pretty much everywhere that devices would be sold.
Then we come to Internet Services. Amazon has content, but it doesn’t provide internet services like mail, web search, and data for services like news and weather, finance, etc. This is where Yahoo comes in. They already provide a number of Android apps which cover most of the services users would expect on an internet connected device, and so offer drop-in replacements for the most commonly used pre-installed apps.
Now to what will probably be the most contentious choice; The OS from CyanogenMod Inc.. The reason for going with the company and not the community is simple; Having a company makes things a lot easier to form legal agreements for licensing. Groups of people can do great work, but when it comes to signing a contract you need a legal entity which can represent an organisation with some financial backing.
The reason for not going with Amazons Fire OS is that Fire OS is focused on content consumption and tends to be derived from a non-current Android version, which is not ideal for more generic phones and tablets where the use-cases are different.
The guys at CyanogenMod have been working on Android since 2009. If Google continues its current policy of replacing open-source components of Android with closed-source equivalents then the people involved with CyanogenMod have (or know where to find) people with the skills to develop or integrate similar functionality. An example of where they could add value is in the browser; While Yahoo has the services, it doesn’t have a modern replacement for the stock Android browser, so the CyanogenMod guys could either improve the stock offering, or work with another third party such as Mozilla to bundle their Android browser.
Many people will probably consider this trio an imperfect solution, but, hopefully it will start people thinking and talking about alternatives, and hopefully we will see more products like the Kindle Fire which pull away from the Google controlled eco-system. Only time will tell.