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Is it time to Occupy Android?

I wanted to share with you some thoughts on the current problem facing Android users as it illustrates an example of what happens with conflicting incentives. Much of the frustration people across the political spectrum are having right now is the ramifications of other people's incentives (corporations seeking to maximize profit, politicians seeking to buy votes with public funds, etc.)

Android was an exciting game-changing event in the realm of OS's and business models. It provided an alternative to Apple's walled garden approach and gave consumers more choice for a mobile OS.

However, three years on, the problems with model are growing. Here's a perfect example:

Google says Ice Cream sandwich, their latest OS will not be coming to the original Nexus One.

Meanwhile iOS 5 runs on the iPhone 3GS (a phone even older than the Nexus One)

Why is the 'open' platform not going to run on a phone newer than a 'closed' platform (without asking non-technical users to resort to unsupported technical fixes)?

Part I: Incentives

- For Android users this is a quandary best understood by incentives. In the Android ecosystem the phone manufacturer doesn't make anything after they sell you a phone. There's no incentive to push the update. They'd rather you just buy a new phone: Even if there's a only a 1-in-4 chance you'll buy it from them, they'll still make more money through that avenue. Updates are done begrudgingly, and usually only when they can push their own skins onto them (that most people don't want).

- Google makes their money when you use mobile search – whether it's on an older Android or an iPhone. They don't care about your OS as long as you're using a phone with Google search built in.

- Apple makes money from selling you the hardware and then getting a percentage of app store sales (plus a percentage of mobile search). They have an incentive to make their iOS backwards compatible to ensure they sell more apps. This gives a them a large non-fragmented platform than Android. The iPhone 3GS is three models back, yet it still runs the latest iOS. Apple is still selling apps, music, videos and search on older iPhones – because older, updated phones still make them money.

PART II: The Motorola Problem
Google promised to deal with the fragmentation problem, but their current actions actually run counter to that: When they purchased Motorola it only serves to make other handset manufacturers less ambitions about the Android platform.

Buying Motorola also sets Google up with conflicting incentives:

1). If they encourage Motorola to push the latest Android builds onto older phones, they serve Android users interests, while cannibalizing potential handset sales from their partners and themselves. Google's incentives would override Motorola's incentives and you have a hardware company running as a loss leader – something all the other manufacturers fear.

2.) If they let Motorola continue to do what they've done before and not push through updates to hardware that's not that old, they do their users a disservice and continue a bad practice that's making Android as a platform a less desirable choice.

Will it be the handset manufacturers or the users in this choice? We already know who Google is going to choose: their advertisers. Their overriding incentive isn't putting Android phones in people's hands, it's having the largest audience of people they can sell to marketers. They created Android because they rightfully feared Apple taking mobile search out from underneath them. But so far, it's a platform that's cost them far more than they've made or can expect to make for the next several years.

Google now has a triple threat in Facebook pushing to go more mobile, Amazon using a fork they don't control for the Kindle Fire and Apple pushing search into new areas via Siri.

With Apple and Amazon, we understand their primary incentives: They want to sell you stuff.

While Google talks about 'open', their real goal, same as it has always been, is to sell you to advertisers. Anytime they pretend that's not it, be wary.

A Solution
The biggest threat to Apple's iPad is going to be Amazon's Kindle Fire. Leaked sales figures have it outselling the iPad right now. While this may be a win for Android as a platform, it means nothing for Android users on other devices. Amazon is using a fork of the code and apps designed for the Kindle Fire are in no way guaranteed to work outside of that ecosystem.

As long as Android development is run in house by Google, their goals and directives will always be dictated by the people trying to sell advertising. We're already seeing the many problem in that model.

There are at least four solutions:

1.) Google spins off Android into an OS company.
2.) A third-party company forks Android like Amazon has done, but for mobile.
3.) A third-party non-profit takes Android along the Firefox path.
4.) Google gets carriers to give up a share of app revenue and search to handset makers.

Alternatively, we may see Amazon extend its version into phones. At that point it becomes a war between Apple and Amazon. Or we see another advertising company, Facebook step into the fray and repeat many of the same problems Google has.

Deep down I'd love to see Google explore some of those industry-shakind ideas they explored before the became just another OS platform. What about totally disrupting telecom and saying to hell with the wireless networks and the hardware manufactures?

I'm okay with them offering a product in exchange for selling me to advertisers. As long as their incentive is clear, we both get what we want. When it's severely compromised between handset manufactures and carriers, the users come last. Just ask someone who bought a Nexus One.

(Andrew Mayne is a science fiction and thriller writer: http://andrewmayne.com/books )
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41 comments
 
i dont think this is nearly on the same level as what the occupy movement is really about
 
In the end, it doesn't matter. It's just like Windows versus Mac OS. There are literally millions of possible hardware configurations on Windows PCs creating all sorts of compatibility issues, and about half of Windows PCs are still running on the 10 year old version, XP.
Yet Windows is still what's sold on 9 out of 10 computers. And most software still manages to work.

Developers learn to work around the limitations of the OS, and if they want the biggest market for their app, they develop it to be compatible with more than just the most recent version of the OS.
 
As someone who did buy a Nexus One, I'm fine installing ICS via CM8, if it comes to that, though I'll hang back for long enough to see reports from the real early adopters about what the glitches are, first. In fact, being able to install my own builds was one of the reasons I bought a Nexus device, even though I haven't taken advantage yet. The main consequence would be that it voids the warranty... but at this point, the device is long since out of warranty anyway.

(Well, that is unless I wind up buying a Nexus Galaxy instead, when they become available; that had actually been the plan, until the rumors started that they'd initially be exclusive to Verizon in the states --- meaning no GSM, and no buying local SIMs on trips.)
 
A select few, make decisions that serve their interests. All of those who bought in to the system are left out to dry. Which paridigm am I referring to? Occupy or android?
 
Im with +Robert Thau The beauty of the Nexus devices at this point is actually the ability to install custom rom's. I have an OG Droid and if it were not for the fact that i can use stuff that developers make, id have long since given up on the phone. It is still a great phone to me but needs to get upgraded, and because of the platform that the Galaxy Nexus offers, I will be getting one.
 
+Robert Thau You may be, and I may be (in theory, I'm actually not), but my girlfriend certainly isn't. Android won't "win" if the only people who aren't annoyed by its inconveniences are techies. It needs to please the masses, not only those who understand the technical problems that the platform faces. I for one just bought a new phone; an iPhone 4S. As a developer I can't stand Apple, but I don't write mobile apps. As a consumer I want the best phone for my money, and that's an iPhone currently.
 
Apple makes far more from selling the hardware than they ever do from app sales, which would lead you to believe they wouldn't support older models (instead pushing consumers to buy the more expensive recent models). That's not the case though. Even if it were, Google has its own app store so it's then in Google's best interest to promote their latest OS (An app written for 2.3+ won't run on 2.2). Google takes a percent of all app sales and ad clicks, and with Android larger than iOS now it's definitely comparable.

The reason Google isn't updating the Nexus One to 4.0 probably has more to do with the ROM size than anything else. The Nexus One always had very little internal storage, and while yes they could try and optimize ICS so it fit, the Nexus One already had 22 months of support. It's a beautiful phone, but it was never going to have support forever.
 
Two points, "most" Nexus owners have their phones rooted, and there will be CM based on ICS. Thus a majority of N1 owners will not miss out on ICS.
 
Personally, I would pay for major updates to my phone if they were timely. Put ICS in the app store (an app that signals an install process) and I would throw in a few bucks for it. I think they sold about 150k Nexus One handsets...charge 10 bucks that's $750k even if only half of the people take advantage of it. That's a drop in the bucket compared to how much they make on handsets, but I think it justifies doing the necessary work to bring newer Android versions to older phones. People will always get new phones when service contracts expire, so might as well make them happy with the latest and greatest Android version to keep them with your brand.
 
Sort of simple answer. Every device uses a slightly modified build of android and the ecosystem consists of many different devices made by many different companies that would need to co-operate with Google, whereas iOS has a couple devices controlled by one company Apple. Ones much more feasible of a task.
 
You would would think that if one of the handset makers decided to play nice with the upgrades that more people would tend to by their phones? And would then be profitable 
 
Aeon Cipher: Which is why the iPhone is a better experience all around, and that's all that matters at the end of the day. Don't get me wrong, I would much rather be using an android, I just won't by an inferior product. The day that an android device is released with hardware acceleration and a more efficient OS (battery in my Driod X2 lasts ~8 hours and constant GC sweep freezes) I will jump back over.
 
The Nexus One came out in January 2010, by the time the update would have been pushed out the people who have it will be off contract. That means there is no reason to update it. People shouldn't be using a phone that is over 2 years old anyway because of how often phones improve. I don't really see why a 2 year old phone not getting updated is an issue. And there is an incentive for manufacturers to update devices. If they don't update the phone as much as they can then I'll buy from a different manufacturer, there's plenty of choices when it comes to Android.
 
Some decent points but the nexus 1 is probably the worst phone to use as an example. To my knowledge, the nexus 1 was never sold to the mass public through normal channels so only the enthusiasts picked it up. I'm guessing an incredibly high percentage of those nexus 1s are rooted and probably already have a custom ROM, which is what enthusiasts do. Almost any other phone would have made the point more effectively, but you jumped on the nexus 1 because there has been a ton of sensationalist coverage of it not getting ice cream sandwich recently.
 
+Kevin Cleary My friends with older 3GS's are being supported by Apple. Some people don't like to pay the upgrade tax or opt for the higher priced plans that come with phones.
 
+Allan Beaudry I used the Nexus One because it's Google's flagship product. It's their example of how the system should work. It'd have been a lot easier to pick on a phone produced just months ago that won't be supported, but the blame would be shifted to the carriers or the handset makers – and not the people at the top of the ecosystem.
 
+Andrew Mayne Black Friday is a great way to get a new phone for cheap or free. I got my phone that way last year. The point I was making is more relevant to Android than iPhone seeing as every month a newer, more powerful Android phone comes out. But I don't see why Apple is supporting older hardware when they would make more money forcing people to upgrade in order to get new features, which is exactly what they are doing with Siri.
 
Meh.. with a title like "Occupy Android" I was expecting you to suggest we illegally camp on the lawn of Google HQ, defecate all over, make a huge mess and then complain when LEOs beat us when we resist arrest for refusing to leave. Bummer.

We should totally do that! We can force them to give us the free OS we are entitled to as human beings. What's that? The OS is already free? oh... bummer again.

OK... then let's do that and demand that we get free phones too. What's that? Carriers will give me a free phone for committing to use their service for 2 years? dang.

Wait... what are we angry about again?

I like the choice I made to back an Android device over an iOS device. If you don't like yours then make a different choice next time. Simple.
 
You can't just base your whole argument on a couple of cherry picked results e.g. 3GS getting iOS 5. (3GS has similar performance to the 4)

Nexus 1 was released Jan 5, 2010 (660 days ago, though ICS hasn't been released yet) and won't OFFICIALLY support ICS, though I'm sure it will get it via unofficial channels.
iPhone 3G was released July 11, 2008 and OFFICIALLY received iOS 4 710 days later (Jun 21, 2010). Problem is, for many, the 3G became completely unusable with iOS4 installed despite a bunch of features being disabled (multitasking, backgrounds, etc)

I think I prefer Google's approach here, they are not supporting the Nexus 1 because they know performance will be sub-optimal. Whereas Apple just said "Here you go, knock yourselves out. What's that? iOS4 on the 3G is rubbish? Well just buy the 4 then. Problem solved."
 
The 4.0 source code will be released, and any number of enterprising developers can install it on any number of devices.

What's the complaint?
 
Well this is not exactly an objective comparison Apple has a total of 5 phones which were all built in house, upgrading these older phones into their latest OS isn't much of an issue when compared to Android who has something like 40+ hardware configurations.

They're not supporting a phone younger than the 3GS but Nexus phones are partnerships between manufacturers and Google that were meant to showcase the latest OS at that time, not Google actually making the phone. Also keep in mind Android ICS is the 9th iteration of the Android not the the 5th like iOS. There's also the skin problems that Android has but I think Google is moving towards a consolidated skinless OS and minimum hardware specs both by now focusing more on Android's design and ease of use and by their Moto acquisition. Finally Nexus 1 is probably out of contract and out of warranty so rooting is a simple procedure in order to have the latest OS. When you couple how fast mobile hardware and OS is evolving in the open Android system compared to Apple you have to ask how there isn't More fragmentation.

Acquiring Motorola is a move Google needed to make because of all the patent trolls and I think the acquisition will prove beneficial to the ecosystem in the long run. Here's why: Motorola will receive more support from Google but not simply because Google owns it but because now they have to play by Google rules. Taking away the MotoBlur skin and basically building their phones to run stock Android makes upgrading them much easier. Other manufacturers may claim unfair treatment but then Google can just come back with the argument that they're simply supporting the phones that are easiest to support. This is sure to make Motorola the more desirable brand to buy, this gives other manufacturers two choices go for WP (and seriously MS is going to die just plain simple) or level the playing field by playing by Google rules and making their phones just as easy to upgrade by using the stock OS. Eventually Google can take the Apple like approach of letting phone users download the latest OS to upgrade their phones but they need an ecosystem as consolidated as the iProducts in order to do that.


Consolidated doesn't equal closed source just to make sure that argument doesn't blur this comment.
I won't get much into the Amazon problem of forking off Android since they essentially turn a open source product into their own thing and while I think that they will be a major player in the immediate future installing "Liberation" controls in Android OS by Google that let's tablets and phones and whatever else other companies release that is a fork of Android return to a stock build along with competition will make Amazon fold into it. Along with my Google Market idea which should cut straight into Amazon. But anyways this talk isn't really related to this topic.
 
"All Android-powered devices running Android 4.0 are required to supporthardware-accelerated 2D drawing." Does Nexus One have this hardware? If not, then it is the obvious reason for Google not providing ICS for Nexus One. You could complain about this but it would be a decision about ensuring consistent user experience accross devices.
 
+Neil Kerkin the 3GS performance is nothing like the iPhone 4 if you have them side by side I'm afraid... Not sure what the specs were on the 3GS but the 4 kicks it into touch pretty solidly.

+Andrew Mayne I enjoyed this article and it's been a good read, I will reshare. As someone who intends to re-visit returning to Android next year it is something to consider.
My only quibble would be the comparison of sales figures of the Amazon Kindle Fire, a product released quite recently compared to the iPad; and this quibble, I am willing to admit, is not an arguement against the comparison, but something to keep in mind. Since Apple has a strict (ish) release cycle; I , personally, would not purchase an iPad 2 now; as I know in a few months there will be the iPad 3; so sales will have already started to slump for the iPad 2 for those who are keen in getting the 3rd generation device next year.

+Eloy Sanchez You make a good point here; and whilst nobody can disagree with that directly as it is factual in its premise; I can only say this serves to highlight the level of long term support you get from buying that expensive Apple device. When my girlfriends 3G received the iOS4 update; it felt good to know that you were being "looked after" even though you hadn't bought anything new from them in over 2 years. And when the 3GS received its iOS5 update; I'm sure people running the 3GS appreciated the upgrade to the notifications and all things new between iOS5 and 4... I switched from Android until this can be resolved; as I have found that purchasing an Android handset doesn't guarantee you any updates to the OS unless you have the time to hack away at the OS to make it work if the manufacturer won't support it... I hadn't the time and get an iPhone 4; a phone that I will pass on to my girlfriend and it came with iOS 4; and will one day, no doubt, run iOS 6.
 
I have an htc desire HD which runs HTC Sense. It is horrible, I hate it and HTC hates updating sense for every new android OS, which is why I always get upgrades aeon's after most other carriers. Hence the ICS upgrade (for now apparently) will not be supported by HTC for the desire HD. I am sick of this. I hate the apple lineup, which somehow has magically conned people into buying the same piece of fish wrapped in a different newspaper, complete trickled with distractions that can understand what you say (a feature that has existed,albeit in a more rudimentary form, since MS word 2003's voice dictation feature).

I have heard amazingly good things about WP7's user experience, have not for now seen any sign of fragmentation by vendors, and nokia's new product line up looks very tempting. So my minds made, I am switching to WP7. Good riddance to android I say
 
Just wait for the Open Source Comminuty port a version to it. cough*CyanogenMod9*cough. There.
 
"I'm okay with them offering a product in exchange for selling me to advertisers. As long as their incentive is clear, we both get what we want. When it's severely compromised between handset manufactures and carriers, the users come last." We are all suckers. Users always come last. For instance: Google kills Google Toolbar at Firefox, so users have to move to Chrome in order to keep their Bookmarks. Suckers say "It's OK, I love Chrome." Freedom dies while suckers clap.
 
Now you realize there is no free lunch.

Porting is not effort free. It is extremely expensive. I am saddened every time I see new variants of phones. Unaware consumers pick variants that do not gain critical mass and it is just economically impossible to have Android updates for these. Even the Nexus One cannot command a business case for an upgrade by deep pocket Google.

I hope Android handset makers can stop branching too much. Differentiate by good hardware or good design that do not require OS changes. You may be able to do a launch version for a model. But you many not have the money to have even one update.

If you don't believe porting is expensive, go ahead and port Icre cream Sandwich to Nexus One yourself.
 
I think that people are missing a lot of very important points here.

First and foremost, the Nexus One is not being supported because it lacks the hardware capabilities to support ICS. It does not have hardware to support NFC, it does not have a front-facing camera, it has an older processor with less and slower memory, etc. If you aren't going to be able to utilize many of the added features because of a lack of hardware on a 2-year-old device and the features that you can make use of will run terribly because of the reduced performance availability, why upgrade it? It doesn't make any logical sense to even offer an upgrade for a device that can't support many of the features and support the others poorly. It would create a TERRIBLE user experience.

Second, and this is a problem that plagues most every company I have ever worked with in the computing field, just because an update is available does not mean that you have to get it. The "average consumer" that everyone keeps referencing and forcing this title of "screwed" or "coming last" won't even use any of the new features. The average dummy consumer that everyone keeps referencing has only a handful of apps at most and barely utilizes their devices potential, so there is little need for a majority of them to upgrade to the latest version. You can't beat down custom ROM's by saying that the average customer isn't technical enough to employ them, but then put them on the level of an experienced or power-user for their needs.

What it comes down to is that hardware gets outdated. It is an age-old problem that has been around since the dawn of technology (forever). If you have a device that is 22+ months old and you NEED the new features brought about by an updated OS version that your outdated device can't run, you buy a new one. If you don't need any of the new features, then you stick with your phone until whenever you device you want to upgrade. Not everyone NEEDS to run the latest version just because it is available. As with every device, not just the Nexus One's out in the wild, you have to make the decision for yourself as a consumer as to what your needs are and how to meet them. If that doesn't fit into the Android model, go with a Blackberry or iOS device. That is one of the luxuries of the free-market, there are plenty of options to meet each individuals own needs. Make sure that your own are met and let everyone else worry about their own. Stop trying to slam Google and Android in the name of "protecting other consumers" and let them take care of their own needs...
 
I get that people with Apple may like being "looked after" cause everyone likes the "they appreciate me I'm not just money" but the truth is that Apple is pretty behind the times feature wise. The 3GS a two year old phone is just getting notifications and "multitasking" something standard since the dawn of Android. Do you know why they updated 3GS though like really why?

The Apple Paradox

So you were not satisfied with Android and decided to go with an iPhone. Now you talk of how great it is to have support for that expensive phone you bought 2 years ago. The features you talk about had been in Android when you switched. So what gives? You didn't like Android then but praise Apple for giving out those features now? It's an inferior offering its like going to a high end restaurant and getting 2 day old food, and going "Wow that was delicious" simply because you got served by an English butler.
Now if you think Apple is just doing this out of the bottom of they're kind heart you are blind. Apple released iOS on their three "latest" models that included people that already had 3GS and 4 but it wasn't for them. Releasing iOS into their 3 latest gives Apple a "lineup" 4S is the best hardware, 4 pretty good, 3GS happens to be outdated but its free. Apple knows that Android is killing it in the low end smartphone arena since people can get a phone free or 50 that is capable of the same of more than iPhone which runs for 200. So this update was not customer loving, its Apple having to update old hardware in order to have a dog in the fight.
Apple does it by trying to establish monopoly, MS through licensing and Google is pumping out phones and OS updates at a rate the others can't match. You may not like Android and I've seen you defend Apple pretty vividly but you can't really act so emotionally guided both companies are out to get money fact. 
 
This is an outstanding assessment of the current state of the platform. Will be very interested to see what move Google makes next. Very well written, thank you.
 
+Brian Northrup and +Eloy Sanchez made excellent comments. Thank you! 
 
Thank you +Antti Brax.

[Deleted a giant section here so as not to ramble TOO much, haha... basically just detailing how most people subscribe to the falacy that the new version is always better and that they MUST have it as soon as it is available, even though many times their hardware or other software running on the system can't handle the upgrade for one reason or another. If it isn't adding any features that you are going to use, you don't need it. Just goes back to the old adage "if it isn't broke, don't fix it".]

What it basically comes down to is that if your hardware doesn't support the software that you want to run, you upgrade the hardware or don't use the software. If you have to use the new software, then you have to upgrade the hardware or move to a different platform that can handle it, which may be an upgrade or it may just be better optimizations in the iOS software or iPhone hardware or just a better coded piece of software for the platform, who knows. It isn't Google's fault that your hardware is outdated in this case, though, that is just the nature of technology. Anyone who doesn't believe me, I have an Apple IIe in my office that I will donate to you and let you attempt to load OS X Lion on it -- ain't gonna work, sorry. Hardware evolves the same as software and needs to be updated from time to time, as well. It is the nature of the beast.
 
Ok, so something I read time and time again is how Apple is so outdated. I read comments about how iOS 5 is two years behind or how Siri being a major driving feature of their new device is a joke because voice dictation has been around since 2003. But Apple is not releasing outdated technology. The difference seems to be in what is considered current. Let's face it, voice control has been on (in some respect) every cell phone I have owned (which is a lot lol) in the last 5-6 years. Does this make Siri an outdated feature? The answer is absolutely not. While the possibility of Voice dictation and interaction with the device is certainly not new, the fact that I actually use it at least once a day is brand new. And even 5 years ago when I bought my first flip style phone from samsung I was that guy who would be like "LOOK AT THIS I CAN TALK TO MY PHONE!" which would be followed by 18 attempts to get the device to recognize "call home" (18 explanations as to why it didn't work right away were always standard too lol). Just because a feature or technology is available or remotely possible doesn't mean its feasible to rely on and integrate into our lives in a way that actually is beneficial. to follow with the siri example (though really the point here is about any 'new' feature), the concept of speaking to a device is supposed to simplify things not complicated them. so until speaking to my phone "remind me to call my dad later" or "call my boss" is actually faster the physically writing down own typing out "call my dad later" or scrolling through my phone book and finding my boss's number and hitting send or call or whatever, than the technology hasn't truly matured. So if i have to download an additional app and run it for the purpose of killing other apps than I would rather not multitask until it does not add any additional inconveniences. Thats what makes apple so great. They push technology to that cliche and magical point where the every day "dumb user" that was referenced above can have as much success implementing a new technology into their daily life as someone much more knowledgable and capable. Of course, the motivation i am sure in rooted in reaching people in all walks of life so they can sell more units and make more money. However, it still results in a much better user experience and makes theoretical technology so functional something 8 years old feels cutting edge.
 
I think it is in the interest of phone manufacturers to release Android updates for their phones. I am much more likely to buy a phone from a manufacturer if I'm convinved that they will keep it up to date. I'm also much more likely to stick with that manufacturer two years later when I'm looking for a new phone if I was happy with how they supported my previous phone.

Having said that, I think it is probably not a bad idea for Google to split profits from the Android Market with the handset manufacturers. Say if 1% of every sale went to the manufacturer of the device from which the application was purchased. That would certainly give more incentive to the handset manufacturers to improve the Android experience on their devices, and maybe give them an opportunity to reduce the intial purchase price as well..
 
Very well. Excellent reading and thoughts.
Great work thanks
 
+Ed Swangren Your comment about the user experience was highly opinionated.... I prefer to deal in facts and the fact is that android devices exist that have superior specs to iphones.. So I guess that means I get what I consider the best user experience while having a choice of many different phones that are more powerful spec wise than iphones. So what scenario would you rather be in? compromising power for your preferred OS or not having to compromise?
 
+Andrew Mayne The problem, too, is that Google isn't fully in the hardware market like Apple is. Google created the open platform such that it can go on certain devices; they didn't build the devices for it. Thus, without that control, they can't say that their latest version of Android might work on older hardware. I've put Android 2.2 on an older Motorola Cliq, and while it does work, it has its own issues. Google isn't willing to push out an OS on a phone that's going to make you hate it. Outside of Apple and Google, Microsoft is a small player in the tablet/phone market. While it's not great now, if they get it right (that's a big _if_), then they might surprise you.

+Juan Carlos Rivera Is the Cyanogenmod9 an alternate distribution of a phone OS built on android source? I.e., a community-supported OS for the phone/tablet (a la linux distro)?
 
+Alan Landucci-Ruiz CM9 is an alternative ROM mainly used to get rid of skins, improve performance and allow phones to have the features that manufacturers and carriers block. So in short yeap the same.
 
Just read your article on slatedroid. I replied "I'm quite happy as things are. You could set it free as open source but it'll be swallowed up by the linux community and might lose the protection and patent help from the handset owners. On the flipside, you could let Google have it all, but I don't actually think they want it. They want eyes-on-the-web, and this is just one of many platforms/techniques they're using. They don't need to be Apple - H/W and S/W both tightly controlled. I actually do believe they just wanted the patent protection, but will probably also use it to launch showcase devices, albeit in a limited way.

Right now it's both. Older handsets may have to turn to custom builds, but that's the handset manufacturers fault (they'd rather you buy a new one). And Google may enforce the minimum-specs more as Microsoft does to ensure tablets/handsets are capable of running the Os. You can still install it anyway, but I believe certain parts like a certification of sorts or market access may be limited.

Manufacturers like a free OS even if they can't resist tweaking it. Then again we don't want everything looking like Android + iOs either, Windows is the only other real choice and to be honest not a bad looking OS with it's tile-based screens. WebOS tried to be different too but the company didn't give it time or just didn't realise what they were getting (HP buying it from Palm). Palm were in a bad shape by then, HP - well, it was just weird.

That leaves Blackberry , and "the rest". Blackberry have hung on because they were around earlier but are losing users - at least outside the business sector. They also look and feel a little old, overly complicated, and limited to me. Symbians around somewhere and linux type things like maemo but Nokia jumped in with Microsoft. Might turn out to be the smart move for both of them in end !

The chinese market is interesting because they use more or less off the shelf parts and standard designs and include things like ethernet, usb ports - including host, hdmi, etc, sometimes dual sim and things too. Others lack basic things like GPS, bluetooth or front cameras, and poor screens, but prices reflect what you get. You don't normally find many of these features on western tabs.

Prices are converging mind, Amazons Fire was $199 and actually contradicts what I said above - it's Android, but more Amazon than Google - so there's room for every price and niche and with the OS more or less free it's only expensive hardware that either makes higher priced premium models, or are simply cut :-) "

Short Answer: Leave Android run free, set recommended specs for each OS iteration, demoing them on new Motorola devices, and as for the handset/tablet makers... I'm unsure if the "headstart" on new OS's should remain to help keep them on board, with the open source vanilla code released later. If they have nothing to gain except by pushing better hardware they'll either have to develop their own OS's, and therefore become something like Apple, with no chance to gain ground, stick with Android anyway - more competition but a familiar, modern, OS or you might find Windows offering more unbeatable deals...

After all, there's thousands of PCs manufacturers with a handful of major ones, with only Apple as the competitor and Linux as the fan favourite. The hardware doesn't differ (much). We want/need choice, if only for innovation, and I feel Android is capable of being the backbone behind a lot of them , as in Kindle.

Hi, by the way, and sorry for the length...
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