Android is going to become more like Apple because that's what Google wants
Android has come a long way from where it started; and, it had to because in some ways it had been playing catch up with iOS for a long time. Apple made sure from the start that iOS was focused on the user experience, so there were never really issues of lag; and, the UI, while plain, was consistent and polished. Over the years, Apple has continued that focus at the expense of adding features more quickly, and at the expense of having the UI look the same, until now. On the other hand, Google started off with a platform that was full of potential, but was clearly a work in progress. Google never slowed down in adding features to the platform, but it took a few years for Android to find that level of polish and usability that iOS had.
Right now, if you set the two platforms side-by-side, it is clear that from a usability standpoint, the platforms are on equal footing, and from a features standpoint, Android has pulled ahead considerably. Unfortunately, you still see the same tired arguments around the two platforms, as though nothing has changed. And really, I'm getting a little bit tired of the constant shouting by Android fans that nothing seems to matter aside from hardware specs. The trouble I have with that argument is that it's either based on old, busted logic, or it's an argument to set up a false dichotomy between Android and iOS. To me, it comes off just as silly as when Apple fans continue to claim that Android is laggy or buggy, because both arguments are based on platforms that don't exist anymore.
There was a time when both arguments were valid, though. Back in the days before Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Android was laggy and it was buggy; and the best way for manufacturers to combat the lag issues was to push as hard as possible on specs. Back then, there was a far bigger real world difference between different hardware, because chipsets were still in early stages. Remember, we're under three years from the days when single-core processors were the norm.
That's when Google hired Matias Duarte, and Android turned a corner. Android 4.0 was released in late 2011, which was about 6 months before the first quad-core device hit the market. That means, in about one year, the hardware jumped from single-core to quad-core; and, during that time, Google finally added real multicore support to the platform. Hardware and software were growing together, and we had to pay attention to the hardware side, because the software wasn't quite ready.
But, Android 4.0 brought the "look" to what had been a somewhat ugly OS. It brought the stability, and it brought a solid performance boost for devices that could handle it. The ecosystem was still in flux at that point, so there were troubles, like the original Nexus One not getting the Android 4.0 update even though the device was less than two years old. Single-core devices were quickly left behind, so the system requirements for Android 4.0 weren't an issue for too long.
That's when Android 4.1 Jelly Bean dropped, and Project Butter brought the performance that everyone had always hoped would come with each faster piece of hardware. And, that was really the last piece of the puzzle for Android. Sure, there are ways to improve the platform and the ecosystem. But, for a user going out to buy a new high-end device (all of which come with at least Android 4.1 preloaded), you could be sure that you were going to get a device that ran smoothly, had a consistent look and feel, and is essentially feature complete given the vast options for customization and improvement available in the Google Play Store.
Google is certainly going to keep evolving Android, and adding new features, but we've hit the point where just about everything else from here on is ancillary. Of course, because of the nature of Android, Google isn't the only one controlling its fate, which leads to two distinct paths for the platform: Google's way, and Samsung's.
Google wants Android devices to be like the iPhone
Obviously, a statement like this is going to anger some people who don't like to read/think and would rather keep spitting rage and getting into meaningless fights in our comment threads. But, here's the real point of the statement: Google doesn't want users to have to care about specs; Google wants users to care about the experience. Just like Apple with the iPhone.
Google wants the same thing for Android. We've seen it with the last few iterations of the Nexus phones, and the Nexus 7 tablets. None have launched with cutting-edge specs from top to bottom, because the price to performance ratio was the key for those devices. Now, while Motorola continues to claim it is a separate company, it is pretty clear that it is doing what Google wants; and, the Moto X is the perfect example of a device that doesn't want users focused on specs, but on the high-end experience. If Google has its way, Android devices will be marketed (like the iPhone) to the average consumer, who doesn't care about specs, and only cares about what the device can do. Of course, even that approach has two schools of thought.
All of this seems reasonable enough, but there is still the constant push-back from spec fanatics who don't seem to care that there is software running on their devices; all they care about is that the hardware specs are the best they can be. Unfortunately, the hardware companies that tend to share this idea also tend to think that "more is more" when it comes to software as well. That's where Samsung and LG come in.
This leads to more fuel for spec fans, who will continue to point to these devices as if they have some sort of groundbreaking superiority over another device simply because the CPU is a bit faster, or the screen has more pixels (as if you can see the difference anyway).
For those who take a more holistic approach to devices, there are options from Google (via the Nexus line), Google (via Motorola), and more and more it seems that HTC is leaning this way as well. Over the past couple of years, HTC has been scaling back its Sense software to be more sensible (no pun intended), and it refocused its efforts on the hardware design. Given HTC's constant sales and production issues, I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see the company follow Google's lead even more in the future.
And, that's really the key here: as much as I don't like to create a non-existent battle between two companies, it will come down to Google vs Samsung. Until now, Samsung has led the way for Android more than Google has. Google has set the base with certain hardware and software features that it believes should be the future of Android; but, Samsung has led on the consumer side of things. Samsung has pushed for the best specs, and Samsung has led other manufacturers in customizing Android more and more, until the underlying OS is almost completely hidden.
Google may not be able to directly control Motorola and directly give Motorola the benefits it could have as a true Google company, but that doesn't mean that Motorola won't be attempting to lead the consumer side of Android more the way that Google would like to see. That means less OEM customization (because that leads to faster updates), and maybe more user-controlled customization (which has always been the true power of Android). It also means taking more of the iPhone approach and making Android devices that consider what "value" is for average users, and not just target the elite crowd with features and specs that don't make any real world difference, but look good on a comparison chart.