There have been an overwhelmingly large number of Android mobile device makers in recent years, and the number continues to grow. This is causing inconsistencies in the standards that are followed in terms of software development, UI and support. It is, without doubt, an interesting and uncertain situation that holds a lot of interesting developments in the future. The main thing that these companies want to improve is the quality of business usability of the Android operating system. This will cause the Android device market to expand vastly. The technological giants Google and Samsung are trying their best to improve the security quotient and other such things that are vital for business. However, this isn’t happening at a very fast pace. Thus, the Android platform still has a long way to go. As of now, iOS and BlackBerry are considered to be the best business devices, and this is affecting Android’s position in the mobile device market.
What Is the Meaning of a Fractured Android Mobile Device Market?
Android still hasn’t become the dominant OS for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. In fact, a simple comparison between the number of active devices in use will reveal that iOS is a slight bit ahead. This is also because of its impaired business capability, lack of diverse application management, permission control and lesser security features, because of which there is a greater risk of data corruption and data theft. A look into this segment further shows that iOS has more applications in the App Store than those available in the Google Play Store. (To learn more about the rivalry between the two systems, see What Developers Should Know About Android Vs. iOS.)
Another problem is the gradual fragmentation of the Android OS. Since Android is customizable, owing to its open-source background, different companies can take the pure Android OS and modify it accordingly, in order to meet their own targets of developing a unique Android experience with their products.
This is currently happening with the newest offering from Amazon called the Kindle Fire. It actually means that third parties are dominating the market using Google’s own operating system, while Google is lagging behind in the market. Market analysis of the sales of Kindle Fire suggest that this Android tablet has the largest market share in the field of mobile devices, ahead of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab series. At the end of the year, it was the bestselling Android device, racing ahead of all other market competitors. This also suggests that Android, at least partially, owes some of its success to Amazon, besides the fact that iOS and the Amazon variant of Android are the main driving forces behind the most popular tablets on the market. This is an example of the fractured Android mobile device market.
What Does This Imply?
In the Kindle variant of the Android OS, Amazon has redesigned every aspect of the operating system, from the user interface to the Web browser. It even replaces the traditional Android app store called Google Play with its own Amazon Android app store!
All of these efforts actually mean that Amazon wants to separate its own version of Google from the other ones which are managed completely by Google. The success of the Kindle Fire may mean the success of the Android operating system to some, but it may actually be doing more harm than good, splitting the market for the Android ecosystem while promoting its own version of Android.
Another example of such a device, which is also the result of the Android OS fracturing, is the Barnes & Noble Nook tablets, which use a customized version of Android that doesn’t support all the functions of the original Android OS. So, while it technically runs on Android, Google cannot say that it is really an “Android” device. Such devices are becoming more and more popular in the modern market, where these devices are being adopted quickly by users due to their advantages over the traditional Android system.
Problems Arising From Fracturing
It seems that that the devices which are equipped with proprietary Android systems are more popular in the market than other devices. This popularity is the root cause for the domination of proprietary Android versions in Google’s Android market, and this kind of fracture in the Google Android ecosystem can be a major problem to software developers who work with Android; rather than having a single set of standards to adhere to, such as in iOS, developers must understand and try to make their applications compatible with a wide variety of hardware and software configurations. It is quite possible that their applications simply may not be compatible with every Android device. It will likely affect customers and enterprises and will hinder a perfect Android ecosystem from thriving.
The success story of the Amazon Kindle is serving as the inspiration for other such companies which hold a license for the Android operating system. Android devices certainly have a lot of potential, as tablets are slowly replacing desktop computers for many people. It can be assumed that in a few years, tablets will almost completely take over the position formerly held by desktop PCs. (For more on tablet computing, see Tablet PCs: Why Don't More Manufacturers Get It Right?)
A research organization has shown that the iPad is and will continue to be the most popular tablet in the market for most countries, including the digital market of China, for about four years. They predict that though new companies will gain about 40 percent share of the market, Apple will still dominate the market due to its good overall reputation and its powerful products. Though low-cost Android devices will be sold, Apple will still have a larger market share in China when compared to the average share all over the world. This means that future years will see extreme competition between rival vendors of Android devices, rather than competition simply between Android and Apple devices.
This may seem to be advantageous for customers, who will get a lot of choices while choosing the best Android device, but it will be very harmful to the overall Android ecosystem, as this can fracture it into several pieces. This also could have happened to the Microsoft Windows OS, as it was just as widely used. But Microsoft effectively solved the problem by specifying limits as to how OEMs could customize Windows. However, this cannot be done with Google, as it is open-source software and the OEMs can modify it endlessly according to their wishes.
Third-party companies like Amazon really know how to use this kind of freedom in the modification aspect, as they completely modify each and every component of the Android operating system. The newest tablet from Amazon, the Kindle Fire, introduces the latest version of the Amazon-modified Android OS. It has Amazon’s own stores for downloading music, games, applications, e-books and movies. It also has its own Web browser and media applications. It can be said that Amazon is tailoring an Android which can compete with the iOS experience by Apple, sometimes even surpassing it.
Amazon aims to provide the best software and hardware at the lowest cost, which can help in improving the experience of the user. Fire is made for ease of use, not only for power. It is also made for those who like to use a wide range of cloud-based services provided by Amazon. Amazon, as well as others that use a heavily modified Android OS, are not only changing the visual appearance of Android, but also changing its feature set.
In this race, Amazon is followed by Sony and Samsung. Both these companies do not offer the basic Android interface in their devices, but rather their own interfaces. It also isn’t hard to see that Samsung accounts for a large section of Android’s devices and surpasses Google’s own Nexus in device sales. This means that a vastly fragmented Android ecosystem isn't going away anytime soon, and the Android ecosystem will mostly be dominated by companies developing their own Android space.
It is easy to say that the modifications made by third-party companies are useful, but they certainly are dividing the Android ecosystem, which can hamper the work of software developers and raise compatibility issues. These modifications aren’t bad in themselves, as they can help in the improvement of the Android OS and can make it powerful and reliable enough to make it compete with iOS, but as said before, it may come at a big price.