There is always a lot of talk around products that are supposedly "threats to Android" or "threats to Google", but we think that those arguments are looking at the puzzle the wrong way. Facebook Home is something wholly different and interesting
, but it isn't a threat to Android. Samsung is by far the dominant handset maker in the Android ecosystem, but it isn't a threat to Google. Amazon completely forked Android and stripped out Google altogether, but you know what? It isn't a threat to Google.
The reason comes from a reminder we gave when talking about the possible positive effects of Facebook Home: Google created Android this way for a reason
. Google is not filled with a bunch of idiots. Andy Rubin and Larry Page are incredibly smart guys. The decision to make Android open and highly customizable was not one that was taken lightly. Google could have made Android closed like iOS, Windows Phone, or BlackBerry, but it didn't. Google created Android to be malleable, even if it meant complete forks like the Kindle Fire. This was a conscious decision, and Andy and Larry fully understood the consequences of that choice, and here's why:
Android creates its own competition
is a far different thing than competition
, and what Android does is create its own competition. Facebook Home is not a threat to Android, it is competition for all Android handset makers, including Google. Facebook Home changes the idea of what Android can be, but even on dedicated devices like the HTC First, if you don't like it, you can revert back to stock Android, which is pure Google. And, if Home becomes successful (still a big if
) it will force everyone else to create better experiences on Android. If consumers respond well to Facebook Home
(which they haven't been in the early going), Samsung will have to rethink TouchWiz, HTC will have to rethink Sense, and even Google will have to rethink stock Android. And, those are all good things
Competition forces everyone to be better, including Google. Amazon's Kindle Fire platform isn't a threat to Android or to Google, because as yet it hasn't proven that it will overtake Google Android at all. Kindle Fire is good for content consumption and light gaming, but anything beyond that is still a tough sell because it is incredibly hard to replicate the Google Apps experience. Forks are a big risk for those that create them, because forks are motivation for Google to make sure the Google Apps experience on Android is the best it can be. Even if a user isn't a big Google Apps user, the inclusion of dedicated and high quality Google Maps and YouTube apps on Google Android devices gives those devices an advantage on a forked system.
This is why we don't give all that much credence to the idea that Samsung would leverage its dominance in the Android ecosystem to completely fork Android. There are plenty of reasons why Samsung could split from Google, but no one has given a compelling reason why Samsung should
. Android costs Samsung nothing, and most of Samsung's most compelling features would not exist without Google's work on Android. Smart Stay, Smart Scroll, and all of the other eye-tracking features are built on the facial recognition services Google added to Android in 4.0.
Samsung could split from Android, but in the process, it would lose all of the Google Apps, including the Play Store. Samsung would have to make its own YouTube app, and partner up with a mapping service, unless it wants to go through the same thing Apple did with Apple Maps. If Samsung purchases a Play Store alternative like GetJar or Slide ME, only then would it be time to consider the company a real threat. But, if Samsung completely abandons Android, there's no guarantee that users will follow Samsung away from Google.
Ultimately, all of these things exist in the world that Google created, and it's the way that Google wants it. Google wants companies to try new things with Android like Facebook Home. Google wants companies to be successful with Android like Samsung. Google even wants complete forks like Kindle Fire. None of these are threats, they are competition within the ecosystem, pushing Google to make its Apps layer better, and pushing other manufacturers to work harder. The reality is that Google needs all the competition it can get, because there isn't too much left in the mobile sphere.
iOS is really the only viable competition outside of the Android ecosystem right now, but even iOS is really only major competition in the US and relatively minor competition everywhere else
. Windows Phone is making strides, especially in Europe, but isn't there yet. And, all of the other competitors are either on their way out (BlackBerry, Symbian), or haven't even been released yet (Ubuntu, Firefox, Tizen).
Calling something a "threat" implies that it will actually hurt Android or Google in some way. As yet, there is no reason to believe that Facebook Home will hurt Android at all. In fact, it seems like a better option than a complete fork. Kindle Fire has found its niche and doesn't look like it's moving past that. Samsung has the potential to be a threat, but it also has plenty of reasons not to rock the boat. And, while all of these companies are adding value to Android, it keeps Google working harder to make its offerings even better, especially with the new devices it will be pushing out through Motorola.