Google’s Android is no longer as ‘open’ as it was, with Google backing off from its original intent. That’s all because apps have replaced the web on mobile devices.
That’s basically the main argument from Mitch Lasky, partner at Benchmark Capital, whose firm just made an $80 million investment into Cyanogen, a startup that’s attempting to make an alternative version of Android that is not as tightly controlled by Google.
Apps a threat to Google’s search revenues
Lasky says that when Android started, Google basically got mobile operators onboard by promising the project would remain open. Back then, the carriers were concerned that if Android became too dominant, Google would force users to is own online services, leaving carriers simply to provide data – becoming a dumb pipe in the process (which is essentially what they have now become).
As Lasky writes:
Open source distribution overcame the objections of the handset manufacturers and mobile operators who worried about OS lock-in, where Google might extract the highest-margin revenue from customers those operators and handset folks thought were theirs.
Android’s promise was that if a mobile operator felt threatened, they could compile their own non-Google Android from source, and run their own app store and cloud services. In practice, despite enormous investment by Samsung and others to offer alternative services, Android’s rise has been Google’s rise.
However, Google did not see the rise of mobile apps, which are a fundamental threat to their search revenues – because when people use apps like Yelp, they’re unlikely to use Google to search the web.
Google’s services at the core of Android
Google has placed its services at the centre of Android, which forces carriers who want to market the official version of Android to place Google’s app suite first and foremost:
Google’s response has been to elevate its own apps and services — the Google Mobile Suite — to the central business position in Android, to de-emphasize the Android Open Source Project where the core OS resides, and to create leverage into 3rd party apps through an API that insinuates Google’s content and services, such as Map or Wallet calls, into 3rd party commerce flows….
Carriers can of course still take Android source code and create their own version of Android, just as Amazon did with its Fire devices, and as Cyanogen is now doing – however, that is an immense undertaking and one that is not taken lightly.
Lasky says that the success of non-Google-controlled Android in China shows there’s a huge market for a non-Google version of Android like Cyanogen, which is why the company invested.
SOURCE: Mitch Lasky
Larry Banks is a keen follower of technology and finance. He has worked for a variety of online publications, writing about a diverse range of topics including mobile networks, patents, and Internet video delivery technologies.