Do I need to keep Android? If yes, then here’s how to do it.

Why is it important: Android is a hot mess. Google should make it truly open source. This would save them from a serious antitrust vulnerability and give the project a huge amount of energy.

We were write a lot about Qualcomm lately lamenting its lackluster growth prospects. As we have noted, the crux of their problem is that they are (probably) losing Apple as a customer, and at the same time Apple seems unstoppable, gaining share seemingly everywhere.

In other words, Qualcomm’s problem is Android.

Android is not the best. After 16 years in the market, Android remains highly fragmented. This requires developers to create hundreds of versions of their application, and consumers are faced with a staggering array of user interfaces. Developers are very upset about this.

Editor’s note:
Guest Author Jonathan Goldberg is the founder of D2D Advisory, a multifunctional consulting firm. Jonathan has developed growth strategies and alliances for mobile, networking, gaming and software companies.

We know many software developers who insist on using an Android phone out of principle, but their green message bubbles stand out as an exception. consumers, especially young consumers (also known as future customers) prefer iOS by a wide margin. As a result, iOS users monetize app developers much better than Android users, causing many to avoid the platform altogether.

For mobile phone manufacturers, these problems are painful. They are stuck in a situation where they have little ability to differentiate on top of a free operating system, and many of their attempts to do so only exacerbate the fragmentation problem. The only leverage they have left is price cuts as ASPs (Application Service Providers) are downsizing in most markets. And while they’re trying to release more expensive phones with $2,000 models on the way, they’re expensive to manufacture and unlikely to sell enough to make a big difference in market share. Thus, Apple continues to receive most of the sector’s profits.

Most importantly, Android owner Google seems to be deeply ambivalent about its OS. They have made no real effort to address the underlying issues, especially regarding fragmentation, security, and privacy. It’s not like they don’t do anything. They have invented many tools to make it easier to write code for Android apps and the web. But we’re talking about Google, and sometimes they seem to have enough attention, like a kid who probably needs a prescription for Ritalin.

Android Version Distribution Graph

For years they even seemed to be building an alternative OS, Fuschia, but that seems to have ended with their recent job cuts. And let’s not forget their Chrome operating system, which is used quite successfully in cheap laptops but also requires some attention. Google knows they want Android, and… it looks like they really do. Too important to give up, not important enough to focus and fix.

The rest of the world sees the problem, but either does not have the ability to create a real alternative, or is resigned to the manipulation of the edges. We recently spoke to one of the main contributors to the ecosystem looking for a way forward, but the only options they identified seemed to either be pointless (getting all mobile phone vendors to work together) or just fiddling around with the edges.

We think there is a simple solution to all of this. Quite obvious, written in giant blue letters with a neon purple outline. Google needs to make Android truly open source. Not the half Android Open Source Project (AOSP) that they have today, but wholly dedicated to their own foundation or handed over to the fine folks at the Linux Foundation.

Obviously, this may cause some concern in Google. Android was created to prevent them from being excluded from the mobile search market. So they should be concerned that losing control of Android will cause this to happen. But we believe that this is an outdated model.

Google can still make deals with phone makers to keep Google as the default search engine for Android, just like they do with Apple. It would be expensive, but not as expensive as the billions they pay Apple every year. Mobile phone manufacturers would still like to license Google applications (G-Suite, Mail, Maps, etc.), and Google would not lose the ability to influence the code.

Google may also be worried that each Android licensee will create their own version of the OS, confusing users. Oh wait, we already have it.

Every major open source project is heavily dependent on corporations spending significant time on development. Linux was built with a very large temporary contribution from Intel. Google can easily emulate this model. Google may also be worried that each Android licensee will create their own version of the OS, confusing users. Oh wait, we already have it.

Google would also rightly be concerned that a change in privacy policy (not least Apple’s app tracking transparency) makes internal traffic much more strategically important for an advertising-dependent company. While this is a legitimate concern, we believe that Google can take steps to meet their needs in this direction. Most importantly, by relinquishing control of Android, Google could eliminate a very large antitrust vulnerability. Scanning many regulatory cases against Google and Android is at the heart of many of them.

Open source Android is likely to receive a huge infusion of energy and resources from the rest of the ecosystem. Mobile phone manufacturers and chip vendors will have a strong incentive to contribute to the project. Maintaining an OS is expensive, even for a company the size of Google. Why not pass those costs on to some other highly motivated members of the Android Foundation. Done right, it can also lead to significant improvements in many of the technicalities, fragmentation, and security at the top.

This seems to be the best, if not the only, way to save Android. Both by improving their codebase and not allowing any one company to dominate it. No doubt Google would have taken this step with great trepidation, but at the moment we see few other options and many, many reasons to take it.

Do you think Android needs to be saved?

Head credit: mayamaki

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