When Google initially offered its Android OS for “free,” I wonder if Mountain View ever envisioned the sort of ecosystem that exists today.
The idea in the early days was to offer the OS “free” to smartphone markers and then make money off ads on the back end. The problem for Google? The OS has turned out to be anything but free, with Microsoft forcing some massive patent licensing fees out of many in the Android industry.
Google probably also didn’t count on makers of some of the new breed of devices taking its operating system and cutting the apps that generate revenue for ads out of the picture.
A perfect example? Amazon’s wildly popular Kindle Fire. Yes, the online retailer uses Android to power its flagship color tablet, but the OS is so hidden inside the Fire that it doesn’t really resemble Android at all. Amazon also cuts out the “official” Google apps that make money for the search giant like Gmail, the Android Market, and others.
Instead, Amazon Kindle Fire users to its own app store, which it obviously exerts more control (and profit) over. Then again, more control over the apps you can buy isn’t necessarily a bad thing either; as there have been instances of apps in the Android Market loaded with nefarious malware to attack the devices they are installed on.
“The Fire may be the best Android tablet out there, even though it’s the least Android-y of all of them,” Noah Elkin, an analyst at New York-based research firm EMarketer Inc, told Bloomberg. “The Google experience is very much in the background.”
Interestingly enough, Google doesn’t seem upset by the fact that devices like the Fire are cutting its services out of the Android tablet picture. Google says that it is in the early stages of making money off Android and that for now it is better to expand the ecosystem than to make money.
Personally, I think this approach will change eventually. With more and more devices hiding Android and Google apps under heavy customization, the day will likely arrive when Google can’t make money off the most popular devices on the market.
Of course, Amazon is hardly alone in removing access to default Google services and the official Android Market. Dell has done the same on a device it will launch in China called the Streak Pro. Chinese search engine Baidu is also building its own operating system based on Android that bypasses Google’s services and puts its own competing products in the forefront.