Google's Android OS has made great strides in seizing marketshare among smartphones, but the fragmentation of devices has finally caught Google's attention—for its Honeycomb tablet OS, hardware specs will be much tighter. It's a lesson from Apple.
We heard last week that Google was suddenly being quite protective of its Android 3.0 Honeycomb code, and that the few OEM makers like Motorola who'd got their hands on the system may be just lucky early beneficiaries of Google's OS. Now there's more detailed information coming out of Google's suppliers, that suggests Google has actually dramatically changed tack for its latest incarnation of Android. Compared to the free-for-all for prior Android versions, which has resulted in millions of sales but an incredible variety of Android-powered devices, not all of which result in customer satisfaction due to hardware foibles or inability to access the Marketplace to run apps, Google is pushing for strict hardware standardization for Honeycomb.
While the release of Android 3.0 was heralded as Google's first genuine big foray into the touchscreen market (earlier Android tablets used 2.x versions of the code which were more aimed at small-screen smartphone devices), the code's arrival on hardware such as the Motorola Xoom has revealed it wasn't exactly ready for primetime. Some thinkers suspect the OS was rushed to compete with the aggressive update schedule Apple was setting for its iPad line. The slightly fudged code is also supported by surprisingly few tablet-specific apps from Google's developer pool.
Hence news that Google has pulled the reins tight is appealing. The company is restricting access to Honeycomb, and has even reportedly reached out to its global cell phone maker and network partners to say there'll be no more free-wheeling tweaks to its OS on their devices—what Google says will now be the ultimate word on how the OS works on devices. Anyone chasing early access to Android will need to appeal to Google's head of Android operations, and have their plans approved.
This is a process some will quickly identify as quality control (after a little bit of firm damage control). Google is ultimately trying to ensure a consistent high-quality user experience for consumers who buy third party devices carrying Google code. And this is for one reason: A happy customer keeps using their devices, will embrace new developments and may buy a future Google-powered device. Happy customers thus feed Google its rich client data needed to drive its lucrative ad business.
There're also rumors Google is negotiating with ARM over the possibility of implementing a standardized ARM architecture to go into Google-powered tablets (and presumably future smartphones and other devices). Such a standard would go even further to ensuring a consistent consumer experience.
If these moves sound familiar it's because you've probably used some sleek consistent hardware from Google's competitor: Apple. Steve Jobs's company is king of ensuring tight synergy between hardware and software, (right down to chip level in its Macs, iPods, iPads and iPhones), and in terms of look-and-feel design of UIs and even the device's physical form. By doing so, Apple can ensure that everything really does "just work" and neatly side-steps the hardware-software compatibility issues that have beset Microsoft's third hardware partners (most notably with driver woes for Windows Vista) and Google's third party smartphone makers.
For a while now Google's been pushing the "open is good" mantra. But perhaps its now prepared to face the wrath of some of its existing partners because it's realized that Apple has found a better way.