Can Nokia or any other company still fork Android successfully?

February 14, 2014
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Credit: JD Hancock

In this edition of the Friday Debate, we discuss one of the most controversial topics of the last few weeks – the way Google exerts control over Android through its closed suite of apps. Critics of Google say that the company is disingenuously touting the openness of Android, only to tighten the screw on its partners in private by limiting the availability of its cloud apps to those who are willing to play by its rules.

Some have gone as far as to declare that Android cannot be forked anymore, that Google has moved too much value inside its licensed apps, and that all that its left is an empty shell. Others disagree and see no harm for the users in Google’s power plays.

So, can any company still fork Android? Can Nokia create a successful Android device without Google’s apps? How does Google’s stance affect consumers?

Join us in the discussion, vote in our poll, and sound off in the comments!

Gary Sims

Is it possible for a company to successfully adopt Android without Google’s approval and services? Yes! Amazon have done it. If you can provide alternative services like an app store, a mapping app, a search engine and an email service then it is possible.

The real motivation behind the recent Google/Samsung deals was actually Google’s fear that Samsung could carry Android off in Samsung’s direction with services all provided by Samsung and not Google.

As for Microsoft, if the marketing people can get the message right then a Microsoft focused Android with its own app store would actually be Redmond’s way back into mobile. From a developer’s point of view it would be very easy to get their apps into the Microsoft/Nokia app store and it would give Microsoft a chance to promote its services like Bing, Outlook.com, Office 365 and so on.

Microsoft has to think 5 years ahead. The Mobile OS battle is over, the two victors are Android and iOS. Now Microsoft has to jump on the Android bandwagon in such as way that it makes money and yet doesn’t offer a vanilla Android experience.

Robert Triggs

Is it possible to ignore Google but still use Android? Sure. Is it easy? Absolutely not.

It’s a shame, in my opinion, as Google may actually be holding back innovation by locking down its software so tightly.

The biggest downside is that Google’s licensing agreements locks in (and out) companies that don’t have the resources to offer up a full range of its own services. Amazon is the only company which has opted to avoid Google’s services, and you could argue that the only reason it’s able to survive is because Amazon has been able to secure a unique market segment.

I can’t see Samsung, Sony, or HTC, spending the time and resources to build a highly detailed map app, but they might be able to offer a better store or music experience than Google does. Unfortunately, the nature of Google’s grip on its app software prevents us from ever knowing.

Microsoft and Nokia is a little different though, these two could be one of the better placed companies to launch a successful Android based competitor to Google. Microsoft has plenty of resources to throw behind competing services, and Nokia certainly has the hardware expertise. As much as people may enjoy slating Bing, it already has comparable Maps, email, and search services which could all be implemented as Android apps, if Microsoft wished it.

I agree with Gary, if Microsoft is interested in Android then it will have to offer something above and beyond the existing market. Hardware could be the key, but competing with Samsung’s dominance is going to be tough. Software wise, Microsoft could play to its business strengths, integrating Android with its existing services could prove a tempting proposition for Windows users.

Android is still open, but Google’s control over its software certainly adds an investment barrier which prevents other companies from breaking out, but Microsoft may have the resources to overcome it.

Bogdan Petrovan

I am fully invested in Google’s ecosystem. I’ve drank the Kool-Aid and I love it. I like the convenience of having one account to sign in to dozens of high quality services and being able to share information between them seamlessly. With that said, I understand why some people don’t trust Google and don’t trust where Google is heading, with ever more integration and continuous expansion towards more areas of our lives.

I don’t want Android without Google, but I understand why some people may be interested in getting the best mobile operating system out there, just without… Google. Amazon has proved that people can appreciate a mobile device like that, and I think that Nokia can do it too. With its music and mapping service and with Microsoft’s set of cloud services including mail and storage, you can say that Nokia is in an even better position to fork Android and get away with it. It won’t be easy, of course –  apps are crucial and I am curious to see how they plan to populate their app store fast.

Much ink has been spilled over Google’s supposed clampdown on Android via its licensed apps. Over how Android isn’t really open, because of the way Google uses its apps like the proverbial stick and carrot. I agree that Google is yielding that stick and carrot, and to great effect, but it’s important to realize it can only do so because the donkey has agreed to be saddled. Nokia, or any other phone maker, can get a feature rich and modern operating system for free right now without any obligation – they just need to come up with some good enough replacements for Google’s apps. In the case of a giant like Microsoft, that’s fairly easy to do.

The real problem is for smaller players, who don’t have the money, resources, and influence to create and maintain their own suit of cloud services. This is where I’d love to see some open competition to Google.

What do YOU think?

Join us in the comments and vote in our poll.

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