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Android has won: now what?


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A little over five years after the creation of the Open Handset Alliance, Glyn Moody looks at Android's global market position and the challenges that Google faces to avoid Android disappearing under a plethora of other companies' interfaces and apps.

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Is it really just a little over five years ago that this happened?

A broad alliance of leading technology and wireless companies today joined forces to announce the development of Android, the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. Google Inc., T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm, Motorola and others have collaborated on the development of Android through the Open Handset Alliance, a multinational alliance of technology and mobile industry leaders.

This alliance shares a common goal of fostering innovation on mobile devices and giving consumers a far better user experience than much of what is available on today's mobile platforms. By providing developers a new level of openness that enables them to work more collaboratively, Android will accelerate the pace at which new and compelling mobile services are made available to consumers.

While some called the first Android phones "iPhone killers" other pundits saw its shaky beginnings, and claimed it would never beat Apple's ascendant iPhone. Today, Android commands 70% of the global smartphone market, and even more outside the US, which remains Apple's stronghold.

Or what about tablets? Remember how people said that they were different, and that Android would never beat Apple's hugely popular iPad etc etc? And yet today, as many of us predicted, Android tablets are recapitulating the smartphone story:

Smaller, cheaper Android tablets will nibble away at the iPad's market share this year. IDC on Tuesday revised its forecasts for the tablet market through 2013, which it now believes will climb to 190.9 million total units shipped. By the end of the year, IDC predicts that more Android tablets will be shipped than iPads for the first time since the iPad's 2010 debut.

IDC altered its numbers due to consumer purchasing behavior during the last quarter of 2012, during which it saw a surge in purchases of smaller tablets.

Smartphones and tablets are arguably the two most important computer sectors at the moment, because they are both spearheading a move away from the traditional desktop, dominated by Microsoft. That company's dreadful showing in both mobile and tablets is a further confirmation that this is a time of transition, when dominance is passing from Microsoft, presumably to Google.

But of course, things are never that simple. At the very moment that most people are admitting that Android has won, we are also seeing signs that victory may be slipping through its fingers. One of the clearest manifestations of that is the rise of Samsung as a smartphone manufacturer.

Even though the recent launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 received rather mixed reviews, there was no doubt that it was a media event comparable to the launch of a new Apple iPhone (some might argue that's not a good thing...) And Samsung's product line is far deeper than Apple's: it offers over 70 different Android models, and represents around 42% of all shipments in that sector.

But the stronger Samsung gets, the less it will regard itself as part of the larger Android ecosystem. Indeed, it will be keen to differentiate itself from rival handset manufacturers, and one obvious way to do that is to slather proprietary layers on top of the underlying operating system. Once that happens, herd instinct will probably cause the others to follow suit – each trying to out-do the other in terms of the gaudy interface it puts in front of the user and the apps that are bundled, until the Android-ness of the smartphone is more nominal than real.

And it's not just the big names who will be driving Android fragmentation. Although largely invisible here in the West, Android use in China has been increasing even more rapidly than elsewhere: it has already recently achieved an amazing 90% market share of the smartphone market there.

Interestingly, its hold in urban areas is lower – only around 70% – which implies it's well over 90% elsewhere. That's because few outside the main cities can afford high-end iPhones, and most opt for low-cost Androids instead. Those are the real game-changers not just for China, but for the world. This report explains the background:

...last year large chip makers, including the Taiwan-based MediaTek and Spreadtrum, started offering “turn-key” systems: phone designs plus a set of chips with Android and other software preloaded. Spreadtrum says it may sell 100 million units this year.

Each chipset costs $5 to $10, depending on the size of a phone’s screen and other features. In total, Liang says, his cost to make a smartphone is about $40. He says he can manufacture as many as 30,000 smartphones a day for brands such as Konka Mobile and for telecom operators like China Unicom.

Google faces new challenges

This means that Android systems can already be offered for a few tens of dollars, and that price will probably fall. It's these systems that will flood emerging economies – Asia, Africa and South America – and ensure that Android emerges as the dominant player there, too. But once more, that's not necessarily good news for Google: Chinese manufacturers have no qualms about installing their own apps and interfaces. These will be Android phones only at the lowest levels, with varying levels of compatibility. As The H reported recently, the Chinese government is unhappy with Google's dominance in the smartphone market, and can be expected to encourage any move by local manufacturers to assert their independence in this way.

Unfortunately for Google, these challenges are coming at a time when Android will be largely rudderless. News that Android's creator, Andy Rubin, has "decided it’s time to hand over the reins and start a new chapter at Google" means that Android's new boss, Sundar Pichal, will be too busy dealing with internal organisational matters as he brings Android alongside Chrome to worry much about external challenges. The fact that one of those is coming from lots of obscure Chinese companies turning out ultra-cheap pseudo-Android systems will make it even harder for him to respond.

Moreover, Google's wavering commitment to openness isn't helping it to win – or even keep – friends at this critical juncture. The introduction of DRM extensions to HTML5 on Chrome OS, is one example of this. Even worse is the following:

In a shocking move, Google has recently deleted AdBlock Plus from the Android Play Store. This is hugely disappointing because it demonstrates that Google is willing to censor software and abandon its support for open platforms as soon as there's an ad-related business reason for doing so.

Until now, the internet and software development communities have relied on Google to be safely on their side when it comes to building open platforms, encouraging innovation, and giving users maximum choice about how their computers will function. But with today's news, that commitment to openness suddenly looks much, much weaker.

Nor does Google have many friends left among the handset manufacturers. After the upbeat start five years ago, the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) has faded away – the last "What's New" item on its home page is dated 18 July 2011. It is probably no coincidence that shortly afterwards, on 15 August 2011, Google acquired Motorola Mobility, thus placing itself in direct competition with the other OHA members, who were presumably pretty cheesed off.

Despite these bad things happening, it's worth emphasising how much Google has achieved with Android. Single-handedly it has established open systems and Linux as the default approach for mobile computing – both for smartphones and tablets. That may explain in part the sudden flowering of alternatives, all of which take for granted the fact that their systems will be Linux-based and open to varying degrees.

Indeed, the usually dull Mobile World Congress turned into an astonishing celebration of both those aspects. The clear stars of the show were Mozilla's Firefox OS and Ubuntu Touch, with Jolla Sailfish and Tizen playing supporting roles. Significantly, these were seen as being far more innovative than the mainstream offerings at the show.

Of course, whether all – or even any – of those can flourish is still unclear. But the fact that they even exist, let alone are being received with interest, offers an astonishing contrast with the mobile sector five years ago, when free software was largely irrelevant and almost completely ignored. For all the global successes of the new top dogs Google and Android, that is the real victory here.

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Being an Android user and an avid supporter of OHA, I can't understand why for the love of God, Android supporters (rightly believed to be smarter than the isheep :P ) insist on comparing apples to oranges. :nono:

The iPhone sells at ~$650-$900 here in India depending on the version. Chinese unbranded Android phones are available for just ~$50. Reputable brands like Samsung etc. sell theirs from ~$90 onwards ;)

Obviously, you'll sell more Androids than iPhone. It's economics 101 ;)

The question is, does Android sell more Galaxy S III, Xperia Z, OneX, Nexus 4, Optimus G Pro etc. combined than the iPhone at the same-ish price range? Now that would be an apple to apple comparison :yes:

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The question is, does Android sell more Galaxy S III, Xperia Z, OneX, Nexus 4, Optimus G Pro etc. combined than the iPhone at the same-ish price range? Now that would be an apple to apple comparison :yes:

In recent times, Galaxy flagship has been dethroning crApple piece of sh*t.

Things weren't that good before, but times are changing.

However, even if Galaxy Ss don't beat iPhone, Samsung, unlike Apple, concentrate on many many phones, including theirs marketing and still manage to do as good as iPhone, is a great feat in my opinion.

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The big question will certainly be raised after Google releases Key Lime Pie OS 5, in coming months. What Google plan will be next. Nevertheless, the news will certainly come forward when Google anncounes it new Nexus 5 in May 2013.

Google is certainly moving forward in technological sector, since by the end of this year Google will be releasing Google Glass. But, the biggest question for many critics is that what will Google will do for future Andriod OSO and devices.

Samsung S4, got mixed reviews from many people acknowledging negative and positives points. Since Samsung is also concern about future devices, Since HTC and Nexus from Google have done fantastic job in creating smartphone. Last year, Nexus 4 was outstanding device of the year beating every device in 2012 banchmark test, even for 2013 it is one of the hottest devices around with great features, hardware specs that some device only dream to have them and not forgetting Andriod latest updates to arrive first.

Complains about Adblock been removed from Google Play has been disappointment to some user, but people have to understand that using Adblock app or similar apps have made people lose money because some few apps relie to make money through advertisements not only that but Adblock is heavy on ram for Andriod devices and uses the most data usage among any other apps out there. However, Adblock is still providing services through their website.

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Samsung wins either way cuz the core parts inside all Apple products are engineered by Samsung Korea anyway. What worries me is if Samsung as a company grows too much too fast and then things go awry. Profit and market share is nice but as a company I hope they could sustain it. I believe that Samsung can pull this off, I mean nobody could even beat a Korean at computer games.

The problems with other phone brands that use android is that they all suck. Motoblur is the undisputed ugliest UI ever made and whoever came up with that should dive into a latrine like the the boy from slumdog millionaire. HTC Sense UI is probably the best looking of all but HTC in their stupidity keeps putting blocks to prevent full access to install mods, as if that hasn't failed the past 1000 times but no those retards keep doing it over and over expecting a new outcome. LG might gain some market share with the nexus 4 but again Google restricts purchasing to select countries and the battery life on the nexus 4 was unimpressive, people preferred to pay almost 2x the price for a galaxy S3. The Asus nexus 7 is a great product but one thing that turns me off is that the writing on the back is on a plastic sticker instead of being laser etched on the product itself, it makes a decent product seem like cheap Chinese trash.

I can say with certainty that the majority of consumers buy phones based on the way it looks, including the user interface. Just recently I installed vanilla android jellybean rom on my phone but honestly the colours and interface are very ugly and I could not stand it, LOL. I quickly went back to my stock Samsung gingerbread rom. This is one of the main reason people like iPhones actually, it's because of the UI. The worst part of vanilla android is the contact photos always look pixelated and horrific to this day. I often dream about switching to a Windows Phone just to have actual HD contact photos show up when people call me.

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Samsung wins either way cuz the core parts inside all Apple products are engineered by Samsung Korea anyway. What worries me is if Samsung as a company grows too much too fast and then things go awry. Profit and market share is nice but as a company I hope they could sustain it. I believe that Samsung can pull this off, I mean nobody could even beat a Korean at computer games.The problems with other phone brands that use android is that they all suck. Motoblur is the undisputed ugliest UI ever made and whoever came up with that should dive into a latrine like the the boy from slumdog millionaire. HTC Sense UI is probably the best looking of all but HTC in their stupidity keeps putting blocks to prevent full access to install mods, as if that hasn't failed the past 1000 times but no those retards keep doing it over and over expecting a new outcome. LG might gain some market share with the nexus 4 but again Google restricts purchasing to select countries and the battery life on the nexus 4 was unimpressive, people preferred to pay almost 2x the price for a galaxy S3. The Asus nexus 7 is a great product but one thing that turns me off is that the writing on the back is on a plastic sticker instead of being laser etched on the product itself, it makes a decent product seem like cheap Chinese trash.I can say with certainty that the majority of consumers buy phones based on the way it looks, including the user interface. Just recently I installed vanilla android jellybean rom on my phone but honestly the colours and interface are very ugly and I could not stand it, LOL. I quickly went back to my stock Samsung gingerbread rom. This is one of the main reason people like iPhones actually, it's because of the UI. The worst part of vanilla android is the contact photos always look pixelated and horrific to this day. I often dream about switching to a Windows Phone just to have actual HD contact photos show up when people call me.

I agree, if Samsung start developing products too soon and fast they will be running out of ideas. Bearily, Samsung made any huge changes in pervious version S3 and recently S4 except for some hardware specs. Whereas, HTC created beautiful HTC One with 1080p screen and good hardware specs after long time, however, with Samsung HTC is not cheap to get the hands on.

Last Nexus 4 was one of the cheapest smartphone created by LG was given outstanding award by many critics and review, even with its low price the hardware and software was outstanding given the phone future smartphone indeed. The big question goes what will be LGs plan will be for the future. Are LG working along with Google to create outstanding Nexus devices or work along.Some rumours point out that future Nexus will be created by LG with new hardware specs and brilliant new camera and of course with new Key Lime Pie.

To be really honest, having Samsung, HTC, or LG with Andriod OS on board with outdated software is kind of lack making people thinking about the device twice since Google as released last year Jelly Bean 4.2 and only Nexus devices was able get the news version unless you install custom rom.

Now the people have raised question what will happened to Giant Apple, since iPhone 5 made less profit for Apple, since iPhone 5 was the most expensive smartphone yet price starting fom £550 16GB with specs related to Samsungs 2011 SII making the phone less powerful compare to other giant devices. Now the rumours are in the air that Apple will come up new specs for iPhone 5s or straight go for iPhone 6, but again what will the prices of the future iPhone devices.

Certainly, smartphone world is becoming complicated one and huge complication have started when company's started to sue each other for patent making the value for the company and smartphone goes to thinking twice.

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