Android as an operating system has had some wonderful success over the last few years. For some time, Android manufacturers took a back seat to Apple; Android was good, but iOS was better, the critics said. Over the last few years, Android’s success has critics seeing the Apple enemy in a whole new light, with some suggesting that the future of the smartphone industry lies with Android manufacturers and not with the Apple Corporation – a company that many once thought was invincible and beyond fail.
Android’s success was supposed to become a good thing; it was supposed to help Android manufacturers see the success that they could achieve and propel them to heights of which they had never dreamed. Android’s success was supposed to be the motivation and influence its manufacturers needed to surpass Apple and iOS. I fear the worst, however: with Android’s rising success, its manufacturers are starting to see their own individual companies as “superstars,” dividing iOS, once a cohesive whole, into individual pieces or fragments. We are on the brink of the fragmentation of Android.
Before you put this article down and walk away, let me explain. Earlier this week at the International CES, LG Electronics announced that the Nexus 4 was only the first of collaborative efforts with Google:
“Through our collaboration with Google, we launched the LG Nexus 4 smartphone. This is the first of many devices to come from our growing partnership with this very selective company” (underline mine).
What this means is that we can look forward to a Nexus 5 and 6, possibly a “Nexus 9” or “Nexus 11” one of these days (depending on how the Nexus smartphones are named, in contrast to the Nexus tablets). Some time after LG made this statement, however, the International Business Times claimed that “the Nexus 4 production ‘is alleged to have [been] halted,’ with LG interested in building its next-gen devices” (Chris Smith, “Nexus 4 production reportedly halted, as LG is focusing on future smartphones, Nexus 5 included?”). What is this supposed to mean? To be blunt, LG has decided to abandon the Nexus 4 in favor of its own smartphones. Supposedly, the LG Optimus G has made the company grow confident in moving forward to advance its own cause. As for its project with Google? Well, LG looks to work with them in the future, but no definite time frame was given in which the two companies would come together. Consumers who wanted to get their hands on a Nexus 4 are now left waiting for the next Nexus project (which could be in a year or two).
In an article I wrote on the Google X Phone, I said that it would not be a wise move for Google to push Samsung out of the way. I assumed that Samsung would want to stay in the Android manufacturing group. While Samsung’s phones have made Android the OS to be envied, Samsung has also been working on an OS of its own: Tizen. Reports have surfaced in the last two weeks that Samsung will produce more Tizen phones this year than ever before. What this means is that Samsung, who has never gone public about its “OS in the wings,” intends to promote its own OS in its own hardware this year. Some say that this is in response to Google’s plans to create an X phone; considering that Google published its announcement first, I would not be surprised if Samsung’s decision to press forward has something to do with Google’s desire to rule Android (and Samsung’s desire to rule Tizen).
Now, LG has stepped forward and made the same move as Google: deciding to put its own work ahead of the partnership between itself and Google. LG’s move could also be a political response to Google’s X phone declaration: since Google is moving forward with its own smartphone, LG looks to do the same. Unlike Google or Samsung, however, it does not have the financial resources to continue producing one line of smartphones while working on a new line so it has decided to pull its resources together and start on another smartphone (beyond the LG Optimus G and Nexus 4). What this says to the consumer is the following: “while LG and Google produced a quality phone together, nothing matters more than our own smartphone line and company name. If left to choose between our phones and a partnership phone, the partner phone project will be the first to go.” This does not bode well for a company that, until the Optimus G and Nexus 4, was not known for its phone collections.
With Google’s move to create a 100% Google phone, Samsung’s move to have its own autonomous Tizen OS, and LG’s withdrawal from its Google project to pursue its own line, we have the beginning of what is known as “the fragmentation of Android.” This curious statement refers to the breakdown of what was once a unified OS, a group of smartphone and software manufacturers who, once unified, decided to go their own separate ways and create their own Android flavors that stand out from the rest. The fragmentation of Android refers to the breakdown of a unified OS into individual companies and their tech achievements. In other words, companies that once said, “it’s about we” (multiple manufacturers) will now say “It’s about me” (our one company)!
This mindset, unfortunately, will prove detrimental for Android as a whole. Android has become successful through not only its unity, but also its diversity. The diversity of the Android ecosystem, working together with the agreement of its hardware manufacturers, has kept the operating system together – even through the days when it struggled to compete with Apple’s iOS. There is unity in diversity and diversity in unity, and these principles have made Android what it is today. Unfortunately, Android manufacturers are starting to believe that there can be no diversity in unity (only in division); this mindset will allow Apple to divide and conquer in its strategy to remain on top in the smartphone world.
Apple has made its success happen with a dictatorial, exclusive strategy. The company produces its own OS and maintains stern control over its carriers and plans. It does everything for itself and only does what it wants to do. Samsung has already shown in 2012 when it beat Apple in the last quarter ($8.3 billion vs. Apple’s $8.2 billion) that working with Google has been a successful venture, as opposed to going at the tech industry alone. Now that Samsung has proven that “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team'”, Android manufacturers should do what they can to continue to push their financial profits above that of Apple. This year, however, Android manufacturers are starting to think that they can accomplish more alone than they can in collaboration with others. This is a dangerous mindset that will only leave a path of destruction behind. The truth is in the sales: If consumers are forced to choose between companies instead of operating systems, Google and Samsung will rack up sales while companies such as HTC, LG, and other lesser-known names will lose in the smartphone war.
Englishman John Donne once wrote the statement “No man is an island”; if this is true, Donne’s words could not be truer than in the current Android circumstances. Android’s success has come through its collaboration and innovation – a combination rather than isolation. Take away one of the two elements in the equation, and the Android “I-land” will become nothing at all.