Why one investor thinks we need an Android that Google doesn't control

Google has backed off its original “open” stance on Android. And it’s all because apps are replacing the web on mobile devices.

That’s the gist of an argument today from Benchmark Capital partner Mitch Lasky.

His firm just just participated an $US80 million investment into Cyanogen, a startup that’s trying to build an alternative version of Android that is not so tightly controlled by Google.

He explains that when Android first started, Google got mobile carriers on board by promising them that the project would remain open. Carriers were concerned that if Android got too dominant, Google would force users into its own online services, leaving carriers only to provide basic data access — basically, turning them into “dumb” pipes. (That’s our term, not Lasky’s.)

So, as Lasky writes:

Open source distribution overcame the objections of the handset manufacturers and mobile operators who worried about OS lock-in, where Google might extract the highest-margin revenue from customers those operators and handset folks thought were theirs.

Android’s promise was that if a mobile operator felt threatened, they could compile their own non-Google Android from source, and run their own app store and cloud services. In practice, despite enormous investment by Samsung and others to offer alternative services, Android’s rise has been Google’s rise.

So why didn’t things work out this way?

Because Google didn’t foresee the rise of apps, and their fundamental threat to search. When people are using apps like Yelp or OpenTable (both of which are Benchmark investments), they’re less likely to use Google to search the web.

Google’s response has been to place its own services at the center of Android, where other apps will have little choice but to incorporate them in some fashion, and to force carriers who want to market the “official” Google version of Android to particular placement of Google’s mobile app suite:

Google’s response has been to elevate its own apps and services — the Google Mobile Suite — to the central business position in Android, to de-emphasise the Android Open Source Project where the core OS resides, and to create leverage into 3rd party apps through an API that insinuates Google’s content and services, such as Map or Wallet calls, into 3rd party commerce flows….

As any carrier or handset manufacturer can tell you, Google has recently linked their attractive Android licensing to guaranteed distribution and placement of the Google Mobile Suite, and has started tightening compatibility certifications, ostensibly to “protect” customers.

Sure, carriers can still take the basic source code and create their own version of Android — as Amazon did for its Fire line-up, and as Cyanogen is doing now — but that’s a lot of work and effort.

At any rate, Lasky says that the success of non-Google-controlled Android in China shows that there’s a huge market for a non-Google version of Android like Cyanogen, which is why they invested.

The entire post is worth a read. Check it out here>>

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