This article is the opinion of the author. Google has not actually decided to abandon Android (yet).
In short order, Google will launch its tablet. And in doing so it will start down the path of abandoning Android.
Photo: Charlie Kindel
As I explained in my article on how to think about Android fragmentation, fragmentation is not the end of android, but means Google has lost control of Android. Google has lost control of both the Android platform and the Android brand.
Google is desperate to compete in the phone and tablet spaces (not to mention social networking). Android is a perfectly suitable technical platform to build on, but as a brand it is atrocious.
In that article I suggested one of the tactics Google will try to use to regain control of Android would be to “Invest in the Nexus brand”.
Nexus is Google’s “pure” Android play. The idea is a phone with a more rigidly defined user experience, more consistent hardware, the latest OS with a consistent upgrade policy, a single marketplace, and consistent (Google endorsed) services. I love this strategy from an end-user’s perspective. Nexus phones will sell fairly well. But the numbers will pale in comparison to the non-Nexus phones sold.
But Nexus will only be “fairly” successful because it is counter to what the carriers want and every dollar Google spends on advertising it incents the device manufactures and carriers to spend more on advertising their differentiated products. Nexus actually worsens fragmentation along most axes by introducing yet another “Android model” into the mix.
I no longer believe Google will invest in the Nexus brand (at least for tablets). Instead I’m betting the Google tablet will be called the “Google Play”. This makes perfect sense given Google’s recent rebranding of the Android Marketplace and consolidation of apps, music, books, and movies into a unified Google Play.
Moving forward, Google will invest heavily in the Play brand. To effectively create new brand you have to mute your usage of other brands in the same space. At the most, any further use of the term “Android” in consumer marketing and branding will be relegated to “ingredient brand” status (“Certs with Retsin!”). Google will start distancing itself from the Android brand completely.
Because Android has become an ill-defined mess of a brand that Google does not control. If Google wants to create a phenomenal end-to-end user experience that has a chance of competing with the iPad juggernaut in the tablet space they need to control all aspects of the experience. If they are smart (and I think they are) they will recognise that brand is as much a part of the end-to-end experience as the user interface, device, OS, apps, and services.
Remember how much power the mobile operators and device manufacturers/OEMs are in the mobile space? For the same reasons Windows Phone 7 struggles, so do Google’s Nexus branded phones. But tablets are not phones and the power of the MOs and OEMs is muted in the tablet space. A tightly controlled user experience, device, OS, and services model built around the Google Play brand can be successful even in the face of MOs and OEMs.
I predict Google will go so far as to push the Play brand over Android even with developers. They’ve already started this with marketplace submission and you can bet there will be a new, more stringent, app certification program under the Google Play moniker in an attempt to raise the quality of apps for the new Google Play tablet. Watch for Google Play specific APIs and services as well.
Don’t believe, for one second, Google building it’s own tablet and getting behind a cohesive brand strategy will reduce Android fragmentation. It won’t. It will accelerate fragmentation across all axes. Google knows this; which is all the more reason they will abandon the Android brand and focus on something they can control.
The tablet space is going to be hugely entertaining in the next 6-9 months as Google makes this transition, other Android based tablet makers continue what they are doing, the iPad continues to sell like gangbusters, and we see how successful Microsoft is with Windows 8 ARM based tablets.