You can’t read anything in the tech news sector these days without an alarmist constantly shouting that Facebook Home is trying to replace Google’s applications on Android and that Samsung is going to fork Android just like Amazon did. On the one hand the concern almost makes sense. Yes, Samsung’s many devices are dominating the Android ecosystem right now. Yes, Facebook Home technically does replace a few of Google’s services and could potentially replace more in the future. Yes, Amazon has somewhat successfully forked Android and is now using a modified version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich to sell the Kindle Fire. All of this is true, so does this mean Android is in trouble?
Why did Google make Android open source? They didn’t have to. Google knew that their biggest competitor, at least here in the United States would be iOS. I’m not a fan of iOS, obviously, but no one can argue that it has been profitable for Apple. In fact, Apple’s closed operating system combined with its hardware is one of the most profitable products on the planet. But Google didn’t go that direction, in fact Android is the exact opposite of iOS in almost every way. So why did Google make Android open source? Because Google didn’t want to just create a successful smart phone. Google wanted to create a thriving, innovative smart phone market, and that is exactly what has happened. Let’s discuss these “threats” to Android one at a time.
Facebook Home is a launcher for Android that potentially could lead some users to replace Google Voice, Google Chat, Google+ and even Gmail with Facebook’s competing services. If the point of Android is to drive users to Google’s services, isn’t this a problem for Google? First of all, if you think that Facebook can out-develop Google you clearly haven’t been paying attention for the last decade. Facebook Home has had a mediocre reception from consumers at best, and if you think the HTC First is going to dominate the mobile space, I have tickets to a Micheal Jackson concert next week I’d like to sell you. But let’s pretend Facebook was actually good at providing consumers with an experience that they enjoy. Hypothetically what if Facebook did start replacing TouchWiz, Sense and stock Android for millions of users at a time? That’s OK, because all that would do is force Google to make its applications better and better. Competition is what Android was designed to create. Google knew that when they started all of this. Competition means hard work and big challenges for corporations, but it means better, cheaper, faster, more powerful products for consumers.
Forking is certainly a challenge to Android though, right? Google isn’t making a penny off of the Kindle Fire, and the Kindle Fire is almost certainly the most popular Android tablet to date. In theory couldn’t Samsung develop a similar fork of Android or switch to Tizen and cut Google out of the equation completely? Yes, in theory this is all possible, but look at this from Samsung’s perspective. Do you know how much Samsung pays Google for each Android smart phone that Samsung makes? Nothing; 0; nada; the null set; not any money at all. Android is free, Android is popular, Android is powerful and advancing at a break-neck speed. Why would Samsung take one of the biggest gambles in recent memory, spend millions if not billions developing a new OS, build its own developer community, and market a whole new line of smart phones just to replace something that they have been getting for free? It boggles the mind to think that Samsung would do something so ridiculous. Samsung isn’t in the smart phone business to control everything. Samsung is in the smart phone business to make money, and when you find a winning formula (in this case Samsung devices + Android = $$$$) you don’t change things just for the sake of control.
Competition is good. That is the key concept that companies like Apple and Microsoft can’t seem to wrap their minds around. Competition forces companies that would otherwise get stuck in a rut (ahem, Apple) to think of new and exciting ways of doing things. Competition allows consumers to pick the winners and losers. Competition creates high quality, cheap products that change the way we live our lives. Android is a gauntlet that Google threw down in front of every company that wants to make a better mobile operating system. Android means that no matter what companies might lose, consumers will always win.