Google is seizing more control over its Android operating system, forcing partners to jump through new hoops like getting their modifications and partnerships approved by Google.
This is the right move, even though it makes Google executives look like hypocrites for blathering about how “open” Android is for so long.
The reality is that Android is a much bigger success than we think Google anticipated, both in terms of market share and the degree of modifications that other companies are applying to it.
Meanwhile, the smartphone wars — the future of computing and advertising — are now Google’s to lose. So it’s important that the company doesn’t squander its lead.
Now that Google doesn’t need to beg anyone to use Android, it has clearly reassessed the situation and is slamming the door on “open” — taking more control over the platform to keep its position strong.
And who can blame them?
Google probably didn’t think that Facebook, for example, would be trying to use Android as the basis for its own competing mobile software.
And the company probably didn’t realise that in the course of two years or so, it would become the top mobile phone platform in the world, without breaking a sweat.
All of this success has come with a cost: The fragmentation of the platform is so extreme that the star developers who make amazing apps for Apple’s rival iOS have little to no interest in making amazing apps for Android.
For evidence, see Gizmodo’s interview with Tim Sweeney of game studio Epic, where he says that Android’s inconsistency has kept Epic away from the platform.
For more evidence, check out the nonsense that Major League Baseball has to go through to make its live video streaming service compatible with Android — restricting it to a list of newish phones that support Flash. It doesn’t have to do that for Apple’s iOS.
So if Google can eventually reduce fragmentation and improve the platform by taking more control over Android, that’s eventually going to be a good thing for consumers — and it’s especially a good thing for Google. And doing what’s good for Google should be the company’s priority. Even if it may mean that some of Google’s Android partners slack away from the platform, or don’t love it as much.
Even if it means that half the idealistic crap that Google executives like Andy Rubin and Vic Gundotra have been spouting about Android being “open” and Apple being “closed” is now hypocrisy.
Because the only way Google is ever going to really crush Apple is to have a better developer environment than iOS, not a much worse one like it has now. And companies who want to make money selling Android phones should understand that. If they don’t like it, they can build their own platform, or try working with Microsoft.
Talk is cheap, even if you’re a Google executive. But winning the smartphone war is huge. So Google is making the right move.