android fragmented

Although Google’s Android OS was the savior for a number of big companies (Motorola, Samsung, you hear me?), and is also responsible for the appearance (and, to a certain extent, the success) of a number of smaller companies (Archos is a name that quickly pops out), apparently, there are quite a few unhappy Android OEMs out there. According to Ted Morgan, CEO of Skyhook Wireless, his company is working with a number of manufacturers to provide geolocation services for upcoming devices that will run forked versions of Android, a direction that an increasing number of manufacturers plan to take in the future.

For the record, Morgan’s Skyhook  has been involved in a bitter legal dispute with Google, somehow related (coincidence?) to the power relations that exist between Google and OEMs, Motorola in in that specific case. You can read more about the Skyhook-Google dispute and the way Google throws its weight around to impose its will on manufacturers, in this excellent analysis from The Verge’s Nilay Patel.

It is well known that, in order for a device to be declared by Google as Android compatible, the manufacturer has to adhere to a set of Google-imposed rules. According to Morgan, a lot of manufacturers feel like these rules make it very hard for them to differentiate their devices in the sea of Android products. “They [Google] really do restrict anything a device maker can do to stand out, for their own purposes,” says Morgan.

As reported, the main advantage of Android compatibility — easy access to the huge ecosystem Google has coalesced around its mobile OS — is becoming less important to certain manufacturers. These manufacturers have been encouraged to come up with devices than run modified versions of the Android OS, by the huge success Amazon had with its Kndle Fire tablet, one that runs on a forked version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread. “Everyone’s emboldened by the success of Amazon. Everyone’s saying ‘we need to go our own way.'”

Personally, if what Skyhook’s CEO said turns out to be true, I believe it will be a major problem for the Android OS, and for Google in particular. Although it’s nice to leave room for even more innovation, further fragmenting the ecosystem  is obviously not a solution.

Currently, Google  can’t do anything to stop manufacturers from walking down this path, as Android is mostly open source, meaning everyone has access to the code; manufacturers are all allowed to come up with modifications of their own. But if this becomes an issue for Google and their marketing efforts, they are capable (I’m just saying they can, not that they will) of closing Android up and distributing it only for devices deemed compatible.

We’ll see how this story develops in the future and we’ll be here to report it. In the meantime, you can tell us what you think about this idea: will forked versions bring more diversity to the Android ecosystem or will they end up fragmenting the OS even further? Drop us a line in the comment section below!

Mike Andrici
Growing up in my father's PC store, I was surrounded by and developed a passion for technology ever since I was in kindergarten. However, advancements made in the technology world continue to amaze me on a daily basis! I've been writing about the Android OS since back in October 2008, when Google and HTC launched the first Android smartphone ever, the T-Mobile G1 / HTC Dream. Although I'm no company's fanboy, Android is the mobile OS I devoutly support.
  • Hinds2009

    If the oems do this then they kiss their sales goodbye and people who love android will only buy devices that are supported by google and Google play eco system.

  • Level380

    So cause it worked for amazon who said it will work for them?

    They seem to be missing the point that amazon isn’t making a cent on the $199 tablet and talk is they might be loosing a few dollars. But they make it back via content they sell.

    Now HTC Samsung can’t make up a loss on the device as they have no store for selling apps or content. Nor do we need more stores!

    • AppleFUD


      Amazon is a different entity entirely and HTC has nothing to offer that comes close to Amazon’s ecosystem. Take away all of Google’s apps and back-end and what do you have? A whole lot more than they can make up for in hardware.

      OEMs need to pull their heads out of their collective backsides and get a clue. Stop trying to force everyone into a forced upgrade via crap updates and bloated skins–support your devices and stop turning them into buggy bloated POS!

      Honesty, while I would like to consider some other Android devices I don’t. I only consider the Nexus line. The rest have proven that they aren’t supporting their devices worth S#!T with the exception of Asus and I refuse to support that mentality.

  • dark_angel2554

    Google has every right to do what they are doing and if the others don’t like it then let them leave the android family, but they know they’d not make it with out google…

  • Ádám Vincze

    Hinds2009: most of the people don’t give a damn about android itself, but apps, function, form, behaviour and content

  • Kindroid

    The reason for the Fire success is Amazon. OEMs don’t have anything remotely like Amazon to attract buyers to a forked version of Android. Further, why would a manufacture want to bear the burden of research and development and maintenance of a an exclusive OS. Lot of CRAZY TALK here.

  • Marco Sousa

    Google don’t need to to close Android… Because the word Android is register and trademarked. Soo only Google may allow or not the use of the name Android.

    So, if anyone fork it, can’t say that is Android. And if isn’t Android no one will buy it.

    The same happens with other opensource software. Like: Linux, Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, … anyone can fork it.. but can’t use the original name.

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  • Quit a different story I am used to read. I am curios how things will turn out to be. Knowing how much influent Google has on manufactures I guess it won’t turn out bad for them in the end.

    Thanks for the valuable information!