Does Google's openness devalue Android?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Does Google's openness devalue Android?
Last week, we asked the question if Apple's anti-Google policies with iOS could be hurting the experience of its users, and it's only fair to look at the other side of the coin: Is Google's openness devaluing Android? To be clear, we're not talking about any of the usual suspects that get brought up when someone asks this question. We don't think that the fact that Android is open source is a bad thing, we don't have issue with the varied UIs on Android devices, or any of that. We've covered all of those issues before, and we see the diversity of Android to be an overall good thing that does come with some painful side-effects like slow platform updates. 

What we really want to look at is Google's development of its first party software. Google has always been one of the better companies about making sure its products get to every viable platform. To that goal, Google has put out the Google Search app on iOS, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry. Google Voice can be found on on iOS and Google Maps and YouTube will be broken off and available through the App Store when iOS 6 is released. BlackBerry has a number of apps, including Google Talk, Maps, and Google Sync. The Nokia S60 has Google Search, Maps, and Sync. And, as a catch-all for other smartphone platforms that haven't hit the threshold for Google to take on direct development, there are high quality web apps for any platform that has a solid web browser. 

Google everywhere

Google's theory has always been that it just wants as many people to get on the Internet as possible, because that's where Google, and its ads, live. The trouble with this plan is that by being platform agnostic when it comes to development, Google isn't generating much real impetus for users to switch to Android. Sure, if you're deep into Google products, using Google's platform makes sense, but for casual users, a lot of the best Android features can be found on other platforms. Or, at the least, the features can be found on iOS, which gets the majority of Google's developer attention, because BlackBerry is on the way down, and Windows Phone hasn't yet hit the user threshold to make it worth the investment. 

Whether planned or not, the lack of updates to Google Maps and YouTube in iOS has led to a huge feature imbalance between those apps and the versions found on Android. Google never really played up this imbalance in marketing, and now that the apps are being exiled from the list of stock iOS apps, the feature gap will be closed significantly. Google has already promised an "amazing" experience on iOS for Google Maps, and we don't doubt the company's plans. The YouTube web app had outshined the iOS app for a while, which meant that users just had to go to Safari for a better experience, not to Android. 

The most recent example has been with Google's knowledge graph answers and voice command, which are two major components of Jelly Bean's killer app: Google Now. Google Now was announced with Jelly Bean at Google I/O at the end of June, launched with the Nexus 7 in mid-July, and just a few weeks later, it already saw its features making way to other platforms. The Google Search app for iOS is essentially going to have all the features of Google Now, but without the intelligent push, and the knowledge graph boxes have made their way to general Google searches from mobile devices. This means that the only feature left that is exclusive to Android is the intelligent push.

Unfortunately, that part of Google Now has three major limitations: 1) it's only found on Jelly Bean devices, unless you are comfortable with ClockworkMod Recovery, 2) it's far less useful on a WiFi-only device like the Nexus 7, and 3) it isn't that useful if you don't live in an urban area where you can make the most of the places and travel information. So, for many users, one of the great new features of Android could suddenly be found everywhere, even if you didn't have Android.

Everywhere means Android isn't special

To a certain extent, all major software manufacturers do this. Microsoft makes Bing Search for iOS and Android, and is likely bringing Office to the competing platforms as well. Apple doesn't do it in the mobile world yet, but it eventually did break down to bring Safari and iTunes to Windows. Of course, the trick has always been to leave large, easy to identify features for the proprietary platform. 

Oddly, the best example of this is from Apple. Apple doesn't make mobile apps for competing platforms, but it does employ the teaser-feature technique within its own ecosystem. Siri was just such a feature. Regardless of its power to draw in new users, it helped to spur existing iPhone users to upgrade because nothing similar existed for them. The same can't be said for most Android users, who have had voice actions for a couple years, and could now combine that with Google Now-like card results from the web. Sure, an upgrade to Jelly Bean would bring the new UI from Ice Cream Sandwich, and the smoother performance of JB, but Google Now is really the only killer app of recent upgrades. 

Beyond this, many of the ICS/Jelly Bean UI improvements, or improvements to the camera can be attained to a certain degree through the Play Store. For the most hardcore Android users, this isn't much solace, and they will always continue to cry out about getting slow upgrades. Although, it is always curious when people cry about a lack of/slow upgrades, but don't purchase Nexus devices or complain directly to carriers. It would make sense that manufacturers losing sales to Nexus would be motivation to push upgrades faster, and complaints are the only way to get carriers to move faster on pushing them out to users. Of course, that's a bit off topic. 

The point is that because you can find quality versions of Google apps almost anywhere, the value of Android is held in features that are much harder to explain or market. The openness of Android to allow choice of browser or media player is a great option, but not the most marketable selling point. Extensible tools built into Android, like the Share menu, make a lot of tasks much faster and easier, but it also takes away the big "Facebook is now baked-in" moment, that Apple always uses as a hype point. 


Ultimately, that's the biggest issue. Google's general stance of being platform agnostic with its products makes it more difficult for manufacturers and carriers to market Android. That hasn't necessarily been an issue, given the success of Android, but it could be argued that it is holding back the platform from even better growth.

Google can make its products for every platform around, and have the best web app experience available if that's what the company really wants. It will certainly help to build up the user base and user satisfaction for its products. But, there are two sides to every coin, and Google making the best products it can on every viable platform can certainly have an effect in devaluing Android, because the features can be found elsewhere.



1. sid07desai

Posts: 290; Member since: May 03, 2012

I think Google's openness is Android's biggest strength. People get easily used to it. This is what makes it different from Apple.

8. disneydad

Posts: 114; Member since: Mar 26, 2012

I agree. Watching how my father's business info was so locked into iOS after switching to Android really surprised me. Switching between Android, WP, and Symbian has been easy for me.

23. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

The real question we need to ask is, "do we want to use exclusive feature or app and become dependent on that platform?

27. MeoCao unregistered

Android is much better than other OSes and does not depend on exclusivity to thrive. On the other hand iOS needs the closed garden and locked sheeps approach b-c Apple does not believe they can compete without it. What will happen if people realize they had to pay more to Apple for less? Too bad they are locked.

31. anywherehome

Posts: 971; Member since: Dec 13, 2011

never take a different strategy, leave it as it is!! because this is true democracy! we do not want a dictate like rotten Apple wants us to be in!! Do not try to spoil Google with misleading arguments!

2. iamcc

Posts: 1319; Member since: Oct 07, 2011

No. 5char

3. Savage unregistered

Google's openness is both in its favor and against it. Openness allows it to reach more people at the cost of losing exclusivity.

5. Hafiz

Posts: 78; Member since: Dec 20, 2011

Well said

14. CharlieAtInfinity

Posts: 253; Member since: Apr 10, 2012

BUT even exclusivity has its own disadvantages.. I am definitely in favour of openness of Android, you can tweak android so much according you like!! thats not possible on iOS and Windows Phone :) (exclusivity) So I think openness has benefited Google more than exclusivity!!

4. nak1017

Posts: 328; Member since: Jan 08, 2010

Is this article sponsered by Apple?

9. thebest

Posts: 231; Member since: Jul 08, 2012

you know that it isn't

19. Lucas777

Posts: 2137; Member since: Jan 06, 2011

is anything remotely critical of android just hard to accept? if anything, this article is far from criticism and I think nicely objective about android…

6. NexusKoolaid

Posts: 493; Member since: Oct 24, 2011

Probably not, but it seems to really be stretching hard to build up a set of downsides and presents arguments that apply, in most cases, just as well against other platforms as against Android.

7. disneydad

Posts: 114; Member since: Mar 26, 2012

Another excellent article Michael! I concur with your point that needing an Android device is not necessary to experience Google features. In real world I have found that an Android device integrates much more seamlessly Google features than other OS devices do. I have a LG G-Slate tablet that integrates seamlessly with all of my business needs that are running through Google products. (Voice, Gmail, Drive) I cannot say the same for HTC Radar running WP7.5. While there are certain features available on WP it pales in comparison to the experience on Android devices. As you mentioned, Google hasn't put much into WP because of it's market share but I don't see it integrating the same when WP8 comes out. I think what truly devalues Android is that there is no value built into it. Marketing from Google is not extensive and it is common to come across an iOS user who believes that Android doesn't do everything that iOS does. It's not out of fanboy bias, but rather, no one has shown them the features.

10. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

"...but it could be argued that it is holding back the platform from even better growth." Speculative. Android is what it is. Google is making the investment it is comfortable making in Android and taking the technology where it feels it needs to go. Anything else is an exercise in coulda-woulda-shoulda.

11. Berzerk000

Posts: 4275; Member since: Jun 26, 2011

Yes, it does. The fact that Google outs some of the best features of Android to other platforms makes Android somewhat less appealing to switch to. Why would you switch to Android, when you already have some of the features that Android brings? I mean, Google Chrome is out for iOS, but not Gingerbread, what is that? It went from Android 4.0 exclusive beta, and then it came out on iOS. Why not GB before iOS? Google needs to give Android more exclusives to persuade users on other platforms to go to Android. Sure, Android does dominate market share for smartphones already, but why not make it even more so by giving Android more exclusive features? It's alright to be open, that's what Android was based on; openness. But why lose potential market share because of it? I'm not saying everything has to be exclusive, but just give people on other platforms more perks by switching to Android.

20. Aeires unregistered

I disagree. Let's take Apple as an example, you can use Google Maps, Chrome, and other services but you're still stuck with iOS if you buy an iPhone. You still have a grid of icons and a lack of customize features. If you buy an MS phone, you have to live with live tiles. If you buy an Android phone, you get the openness the OS contains. Google baked in the important things, things Apple and MS will likely never offer because both made their ecosystems closed in comparison. It's Android's openness that makes it great, not a map, browser, or search function.

12. networkdood

Posts: 6330; Member since: Mar 31, 2010

You can actually get GOOGLE NOW without CWM recovery for flashing zips. Simply go to the XDA site and follow instructions - you just need something like ROOT EXPLORER to help and change permissions.

42. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

which is potentially even more difficult than flashing through CWM, and is of no use to the general public.

13. blackc25

Posts: 7; Member since: Apr 23, 2012

Google's openness is the best part to the mobile industry and to the end users, the only thing Google needs to work on is quality control of the required hardware with their respective OEMS (What Microsoft has done with Windows 8) and to set up a stringent rule for timely updates from the OEMS. And i wish Google operates in the same manner for its app with all the platform, never ever do what Apple is doing. Coz we are "Androids" and we are generous to all human kind and their OS.

15. ilia1986 unregistered

I think Android needs to market itself a whole lot more - not just as an alternative to iOS - but as something unique and even more amazing than iOS is. The best way to do that would be to announce a new killer feature before Apple - and then market this feature to it's full extent.

21. Aeires unregistered

And TV ads. The Chrome and Nexus 7 ads are awesome, Android needs some of that love.

16. AlexYouOC

Posts: 53; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

I agree with this article 100%. I have never had an issue with the fact that Google is open, I love the fact that Android is the way it is. But there is no sense of exclusivity if all of the best features are just developed for rival OS'. From a business standpoint, It makes sense. Push your product out to the masses so that everyone can take advantage of the Google experience. But as a devoted Android user, I would like to have at least 1 debate with an iPhone user without them saying "I can get that on my phone too". If you really think about it, if Google were to soley focus their attention on developing for Android and only Android, alot more consumers would make the switch. Casual users just sway whichever way the wind blows. Let an article come out saying that iPhone no longer supports Google Maps, Voice, YouTube, Search, etc. Every iPhone user would be in an uproar. Giving Android some some sort of exclusivity with Googles own apps and features would defintely, in my opinion, bring its value to new heights and attract more customers from the competition

17. maxican16

Posts: 364; Member since: Sep 29, 2011

tl;dr: no.

18. paulyyd

Posts: 340; Member since: Jan 08, 2011

Lololololol but watch out you're gonna get banned by michael heller

25. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

If I ban people who can't read, how will they ever learn?

38. maxican16

Posts: 364; Member since: Sep 29, 2011

Oh I read it.

22. fragmentation

Posts: 31; Member since: Jul 13, 2012

Does microsoft openness hurt? What a joke Michael

43. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

What openness? Microsoft still doesn't have Office for Android, let alone Hotmail/Outlook apps, Bing Maps, etc for other platforms. Microsoft builds for Windows alone with a little bit of web here and there

26. JunkCreek

Posts: 407; Member since: Jul 13, 2012

Android is Google everywhere product either. u can see it on Samsung, HTC, Huawei, Sony, LG, Motorola, local build suc as Mito, Nexian, Cross, ect. So Android is part of Google everywhere product but it is in OS division not software/web applications.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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