Perhaps it was the rising power of Samsung's Galaxy brand. Or maybe it was Amazon embracing Android but burying its brand in the Kindle. But whatever the reason, Google is killing off the Android brand, replacing it with a much more vendor-specific brand: Google. Can Google dump Android and still maintain its momentum?
Despite owning a massive share of the market, Google has long had an Android problem. As different handset manufacturers and wireless carriers embraced Android, they embraced their own versions of Android, with changes to try to drive differentiation. In a public appearance last year, Google chairman Eric Schmidt was quick to crown fragmentation as negative but differentiation as positive.
Apparently now even differentiation is bad.
Android: Too Big To Fail?
Mobile industry veteran Fabrizio Capobianco highlighted this recently, noting Android's absence from the Mobile World Congress (MWC) was just a tell-tale sign of something Google put into play long ago. Citing the need of both Android licensees and Google to stand out, Capobianco posits, "Android is now so dominant, it can be killed. Because it is just what's inside. What matters, it is the outside."
How dominant? Microsoft desktop Windows-esque dominance in the smartphone market:
This is almost certain to continue, and to bleed into tablets, as well. The problem, however, is that a disproportionate share of that Android wealth is not going to Google, and Samsung's Galaxy brand seems to have eclipsed Android, as Chris Burns illustrates:
Put in this context, it's not surprising that Google named its phone the Google Nexus, "Android Marketplace" became "Google Play," and Google cut its Android presence at MWC. To protect its Android-related revenue, Google had to reassert itself in the Android market.
Android is dead. Long live Google.
Life After Android?
The question is whether Google can go it alone. Samsung, HTC, and every other major Android licensee have been spending on differentiating their mobile devices from the Android pack. Samsung, obviously, has been most successful. Will they be as interested in embracing Google's brand? Almost certainly not.
Do they have a choice?
Arguably, no. The industry tried a number of alternatives to Apple's iOS, including Tizen, MeeGo, Ubuntu, Bada, and more. None of stuck. It took Google's engineering muscle to gift the industry an Android lifeline, not to mention the mega money it spent subsidizing Android adoption by handset manufacturers and carriers.
The industry's track record at developing alternatives to Apple is dismal at best. And so are Google's attempts to fend off fragmentation.
Which may be the single-greatest reason a shift from Android to Google could succeed: developers. Despite Apple's fading market share in mobile, developers still flock to iOS. Why? Because that's where the money is. The gap between Android developer pay and iOS developer pay has been shrinking, but it's still substantial.
Coordinating Android activity under the Google brand will lead to diminished fragmentation, and potentially even more market share for "Android." Just as the Windows brand helped to sell more PCs, the Google brand - currently ranked second-most powerful brand in the world, behind Apple - could be a unifying force that removes market confusion and boosts developer returns on their "Android" investments.
Not that the device manufacturers will like this.
Building on the Google brand may help them sell more devices as an industry, but it's unlikely to distinguish them from each other, just as Microsoft got rich as HP, Dell, and others shipped largely undifferentiated Windows-based machines. But again, what choice do they have?
Android is now too big to fail, whatever its associated branding. It will be interesting to see how Samsung, in particular, responds.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.