A rumor says that HTC is working on building its own app store for Android. HTC has always been one of the best smartphone manufacturers to come out with new innovations, and they take great pride in that. They were the first to skin Android, they were the first to offer cloud services through the new HTCSense.com site, and they will be the first manufacturer to make an app store as well.
What does it all mean? It means that they spot the opportunities to differentiate from competitors early on, and others will then follow them and copy their strategy. I think HTC realizes that they won’t always have the HTC Sense skin to differentiate from competitors, as more and more people are demanding the stock UI experience. It will be even more obvious when Google launches Gingerbread and Honeycomb OS versions. I believe Andy Rubin was right in his interview and the market will force manufacturers to give up their skins, and embrace the UI Google is putting out.
So how does HTC differentiate then? They will do so through other methods and they are setting the groundwork for new differentiation strategies right now. The first one is offering compelling cloud services where people can access and sync their phone data. The next one will be having their own app store with filtered quality apps that will please most customers. I’m sure other differentiation strategies will appear in the future as manufacturers are forced to leave the stock UI on Android.
Is this another way in which Android becomes fragmented? Definitely not. In fact, Android is moving towards less and less fragmentation as we speak. We’ve had big gaps between Android 1.5, 1.6 and 2.1, but now there are and will be minimal gaps between Android 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 when it comes to app compatibility, which is all that matters at the end of the day. Android 3.0 might look totally different when it comes to the UI, but I’m sure that at the core, it will be just an evolution of the platform, without breaking app compatibility.
With Android 3.0 we should also start to see many more stock Android phones, which forces manufacturers to come up with other ways to differentiate like offering free cloud services and custom app stores. This, again, will only last until the market forces out the unwanted features, and only 1 or 2 main ways remain for cloud syncing and app stores (probably the ones owned by Google again), so manufacturers will have to look elsewhere. There will always be differentiation opportunities. They just need to be more forward thinking and innovative the way HTC is in most cases (still want them to dump Qualcomm’s chips for Tegra, though).