Android is by far the biggest smartphone platform across the globe, thanks in large part to its decision to start the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) in 2007.
Back in 2007, with zero mobile market share, Google packaged mobile services like Search, Gmail, and Maps into an open-source platform that third-party vendors and developers could fork to run on their mobile devices. Originally, AOSP was a defence tactic against an Apple mobile monopoly.
Now, AOSP is expanding beyond Google’s control:
- In the fourth quarter of 2013, phones running a forked version of Android made up 25% of all smartphone shipments, with just over 71 million units shipped, according to new data from ABI Research.
- In the same quarter a year ago, phones running AOSP operating systems only made up 14% of smartphone shipments.
- AOSP is the only platform that gained significant market share over the course of the year. All other platforms, including Android, declined or were essentially flat.
- Looking at just the Android platform, AOSP phones accounted for 32% of all Android smartphone shipments in the quarter. That’s up from 20% in the same quarter a year ago.
The proliferation of these forked AOSP Android devices on the mainstream market is harmful to Google’s proprietary mobile services.
Right now, any developer or company can use AOSP to create an alternative Android operating system that cuts Google off from significant OS revenue. Amazon’s Kindle Fire ecosystem is a prominent example. The foundation OS is Android but Amazon developed its own app store, content store, Web browser, and email services, essentially cutting Google out of several of its key services and potential revenue streams.
Because of this, Google is attempting to pivot on its open-source ideals in order to protect its platform.
Back in October, Google took a crucial step in the fight against forks by locking down Google Play Services. Now, any apps developed using Google’s proprietary APIs will only work on non-forked versions of Google’s Android OS. Running apps developed with Google’s API on a Kindle, for example, is no longer possible.
Some may argue that the proliferation of AOSP operating systems, alongside Android, has helped Google fend off stronger competition from Apple and created a lopsided market in Android’s favour. But for Google, a growing contingent of Android users not utilising Google services is almost as damaging as Apple grabbing a massive market share.
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