Android variants

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    Posted: 04 September 2011 02:21 PM

    I thought the Amazon tablet rumor and Baidu’s launch of its own Android-based mobile OS makes this a good time to review the various forkings of Android and how this trend could affect Apple.

    Android variants are different from fragmented Android devices. Fragmentation is caused by:
    ? different form factors and screen sizes
    ? skins like Motoblur, HTC’s Sense & Samsung TouchWiz

    Variants go even further. They lack all or nearly all of the Google features & apps that are normally included in an Android device: voice commands, Android Market, Maps, Navigation, Voice & Search.

    Both fragmentation and variants dilute the overall Android experience. This will make Android less sticky and users could be more likely to turn to an iOS device in the future.

    Here’s an excerpt from an article that gives a broad overview of the variants. It does not include the rumored Amazon variant.

    Dianxin (Tapas): Incubated out of former Google China head Kai Fu Lee?s Innovation Works, Dianxin is creating a version of Android that?s tailored for Chinese consumers. It?s partnering with manufacturers like Acer and Sharp to bring phones with the Tapas OS to market.

    Baidu?s New Mobile Platform Baidu Yi: The Chinese search giant just unveiled Baidu Yi today, a mobile platform modeled on Android that will allow developers to distribute games and applications. The company didn?t confirm whether it was actually based on Android though.

    Lenovo?s LePhone: LePhone is a variant of Android that Chinese PC maker Lenovo introduced to help its smartphones stand out from the competition and fuel growth in its nascent mobile business. But it?s been more than a year since launch and Lenovo said in its most recent quarterly earnings call that it shipped 81,000 LePads. It also said that it shipped 500,000 LePhone devices through the quarter finishing in March. These numbers are pretty low.

    China Mobile?s OPhone: This is another flavor of Android driven by a powerful player in the ecosystem, China?s largest carrier China Mobile, which has 622 million subscribers. Unfortunately, its future is uncertain as there have been reports that the operator may cancel the project in favor of a standard version of Android.

    http://www.insidemobileapps.com/2011/09/02/china-chinese-smartphone-ios-android-market/

         
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    Posted: 04 September 2011 02:54 PM #1

    I tried to catalog the history of mobile platforms here. I did not include LePhone.

    http://www.asymco.com/2011/09/04/the-proliferation-of-mobile-platforms-continues/

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    Posted: 04 September 2011 02:58 PM #2

    Or GridOS: http://www.fusiongarage.com/grid-os/about

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  • Posted: 05 September 2011 10:14 AM #3

    I’ve been thinking a lot about what people mean when they say that Android is “winning” the smart phone wars.

    Do they mean that Android is winning in market share? Which Android are they referring to?

    Are they referring to the Baidu Yi variant or the upcoming Amazon variant of the OMS variant or the Nook variant or the Tapas variant or the OPhone variant or the LePhone variant or the GridOS variant or the Bada variant?

    Since all of these variants are fundamentally different from one another, is it really appropriate to report their numbers as a single market share?

    And does market share really matter?

    HP has the single biggest market share in computers and they are abandoning the industry. Acer is number two and they lost 825 million last quarter. In mobile, the three biggest owners of market share were, respectively, Nokia, RIM and Windows Mobile. Where are they now?

    And is Android’s market share really taking advantage of the “Network Effect”?

    The Network Effect is::

    ...the effect that one user of a good or service has on the value of that product to other people. When network effect is present, the value of a product or service increases as more people use it.

    Is the Network Effect enhanced or neutered by the various Android forks described above?

    Is the Network Effect enhanced or distracted by the various competing skins such as Motoblur, HTC?s Sense & Samsung TouchWiz and others?

    Is the Network Effect enhanced or blunted by the various competing and exclusionary App stores such as the ones run by Google, Verizon, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble?

    Is Android really winning the Network Effect or is Apple with it’s iOS operating system working on the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad; with iTunes, the App Store and iCloud?

    And isn’t profit share really more important than market share? Who’s making money with Android?

    Not Google. They never announce their numbers but analysts have projected that they will make 1 billion dollars from Android in all of 2012. To put that in context, last quarter Apple made a billion dollars every 15 days from the sales of their iPhone. And Android just spent 12.5 billion to support Android. It will be a very, very long time before Google is able to make a profit from Android.

    Not the phone manufacturers. HTC and Samsung are making money, but Motorola, SE and LG are losing money.

    Not the developers. Apple has paid out over 2.5 billion to their developers. But Google is ever silent on their developer payouts and anecdotal evidence paints a depressing picture.

    Is Android really “winning” the smart phone wars? Not by any measure that I can observe.

         
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    Posted: 06 September 2011 02:41 AM #4

    FalKirk - 05 September 2011 01:14 PM

    And isn’t profit share really more important than market share? Who’s making money with Android?

    Not Google. They never announce their numbers but analysts have projected that they will make 1 billion dollars from Android in all of 2012. To put that in context, last quarter Apple made a billion dollars every 15 days from the sales of their iPhone. And Android just spent 12.5 billion to support Android. It will be a very, very long time before Google is able to make a profit from Android.

    It really is astounding how blind some otherwise astute technology pundits are about following the money. Apple users are often accused of drinking the Koolaid. Google fans are drinking something much more potent if they believe Android is “winning” any war.

    What’s great about Horace’s list of mobile OSes is that there’s no way Apple can be accused of owning a monopoly when new players are jumping in. Just as well the regulators also don’t follow the profits.

         
  • Posted: 06 September 2011 09:11 AM #5

    Drew Bear - 06 September 2011 05:41 AM

    What’s great about Horace’s list of mobile OSes is that there’s no way Apple can be accused of owning a monopoly when new players are jumping in. Just as well the regulators also don’t follow the profits.

    Very true. I often think about how Android has relieved all the governmental anti-competitive pressure from Apple. There is no way people can try to shut down or slow down iPhone development when Android is “winning” the smart phone wars with their larger market share.

    I do worry about the future of the iPad. I think (but I don’t know) that it may continue to garner some 70% of the market for quite some time. And I think that regulators will eventually realize that tablets are the new PC. They won’t want to see a repeat of Microsoft’s dominance with Windows - although the circumstances are completely different - and they may feel the need to meddle.

    I really can’t see that far down the road, but I think government interference in the tablet space is a genuine possibility.

         
  • Posted: 06 September 2011 10:28 AM #6

    Spot on, Falkirk.  The network effect of Android is weakening with every new fork of Android.

    The other important value of an ecosystem is the “stickiness” factor (the likelihood of a user to not only buy the same product again, but also another product within the same ecosystem).  iCloud will take Apple’s stickiness factor to new heights.  The forking of Android is taking the stickiness factor of Android to new lows.

    There is so little network effect and stickiness factor to Android that it is just as likely that an Android user will purchase an Apple product as another Android product for his next purchase. And once the user has ONE Apple product, it is MORE likely than not that his next purchase will be an Apple product.  As such, the number of Android activations are of no concern to Apple and AAPL.  Each Android purchaser is a future Apple purchaser.

         
  • Posted: 06 September 2011 10:44 AM #7

    macorange - 06 September 2011 01:28 PM

    The other important value of an ecosystem is the “stickiness” factor (the likelihood of a user to not only buy the same product again, but also another product within the same ecosystem).  iCloud will take Apple’s stickiness factor to new heights.  The forking of Android is taking the stickiness factor of Android to new lows.

    There is so little network effect and stickiness factor to Android that it is just as likely that an Android user will purchase an Apple product as another Android product for his next purchase. And once the user has ONE Apple product, it is MORE likely than not that his next purchase will be an Apple product.  As such, the number of Android activations are of no concern to Apple and AAPL.  Each Android purchaser is a future Apple purchaser.

    Nice observations. The increased retention caused by iCloud and the lack of loyalty demonstrated by Android users are two more reasons why Android’s supposed market share advantage may not translate into the expected network effect.

         
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    Posted: 06 September 2011 02:04 PM #8

    FalKirk - 06 September 2011 12:11 PM

    I do worry about the future of the iPad. I think (but I don’t know) that it may continue to garner some 70% of the market for quite some time. And I think that regulators will eventually realize that tablets are the new PC. They won’t want to see a repeat of Microsoft’s dominance with Windows - although the circumstances are completely different - and they may feel the need to meddle.

    I really can’t see that far down the road, but I think government interference in the tablet space is a genuine possibility.

    There are so many tablet competitors currently active. Look at Horace’s list again and you can identify at least 6 major platforms that are just getting started in the tablet arena. The list of manufacturers is many times greater.

    With big guns like Microsoft, Google, Blackberry & Amazon involved, I doubt the government will move against Apple. There’s also the international angle. Does the U.S. government really want to slow down one of the few American companies beating the competition in the Asia-Pacific region?

         
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    Posted: 08 September 2011 12:25 PM #9

    Lets all face it - Unix variants have totally won the smartphone market. Game over.

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    Posted: 08 September 2011 12:31 PM #10

    MOSiX Man - 08 September 2011 03:25 PM

    ... Unix variants have totally won the smartphone market. Game over.

    How is this investable?

         
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    Posted: 08 September 2011 12:36 PM #11

    K447 - 08 September 2011 03:31 PM
    MOSiX Man - 08 September 2011 03:25 PM

    ... Unix variants have totally won the smartphone market. Game over.

    How is this investable?

    It probably isn’t. I was just pointing out that virtually all of the popular mobile device OSs, and their variants, are all based on some derivative of Unix. iOS has Darwin, I believe Android - including all of its variants - is based on something like Linux…

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  • Posted: 08 September 2011 04:17 PM #12

    This is an enlightening discussion.  The only thing that I can think to add is that forking of UNIX and the resulting balkanization of it is what destroyed UNIX as a viable competitor to Windows.  Balkanization may very well do the same to Android, destroying it as a viable, profit producing, competitor to Apple’s iOS.

    This is added to Android’s instant problems with fragmentation creating a poor user’s experience.

    I wonder whether Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility (Moto) is more about ending fragementation and balkanization by becoming the exclusive and vertically integrated provider of orthodox Android devices, than it is about purchasing patent protection for its Android OEMs.

         
  • Posted: 08 September 2011 05:09 PM #13

    Nemo - 08 September 2011 07:17 PM

    This is an enlightening discussion.  The only thing that I can think to add is that forking of UNIX and the resulting balkanization of it is what destroyed UNIX as a viable competitor to Windows.  Balkanization may very well do the same to Android, destroying it as a viable, profit producing, competitor to Apple’s iOS.

    This is added to Android’s instant problems with fragmentation creating a poor user’s experience.

    I wonder whether Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility (Moto) is more about ending fragementation and balkanization by becoming the exclusive and vertically integrated provider of orthodox Android devices, than it is about purchasing patent protection for its Android OEMs.

    Forking was inevitable (the OS is “open” after all) but it’s clearly catching up with Google now. As just one example, the rumored Amazon tablet is a major fork from the pure Android OS. I’m hearing that Google was displeased with the coming Android tablet which would clearly compete with their OS and their App store. They therefore denied Amazon their latest software and only allowed them to use version 2.2. of Android. (I thought Google was “open”?) From Amazon’s perspective, there are three problems with this.

    EDIT: Siegler say the Amazon table was built on a version of Android PRIOR to 2.2. Yikes!

    First, it’s not even the latest version of the Android OS. ‘Nuff said.

    Second, Amazon is running a phone operating system on a tablet. We’ve seen that this doesn’t work. The fact that Amazon appears to be going with a 7 inch tablet certainly helps, but a tablet is a tablet and a phone OS simply will not do.

    Third, I simply cannot believe that Amazon is ready to take on the maintenance and the progression of their fork of Android. No one else seems concerned with this so maybe I’m out in left field. But from my perspective maintaining and upgrading sounds like major work and a major investment of resources and a major pain in the butt.

    From Google’s perspective, the rumored Amazon tablet is a disaster. Amazon is not beholden to Google in any way and they will effectively siphon off all the hardware sales, all the App sales, all the sales of services and, I’m sure, all the advertising sales.

    Perhaps this is why Google purchased Motorola. They saw the writing on the wall. They were losing their grip on Amazon Bada, etc. and they decided that the only way to stay in the game was to grab control of one of the phone manufactures.

    [ Edited: 08 September 2011 06:43 PM by FalKirk ]      
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    Posted: 08 September 2011 05:49 PM #14

    MG Siegler:

    This is Android fully forked. My understanding is that the Kindle OS was built on top of some version of Android prior to 2.2.

    http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/02/amazon-kindle-tablet/

    Android 2.2 Froyo is considered to be the last major Android upgrade. Eclair (2.1) was considerably slower and more buggy. Most importantly, it is not optimized for tablets. Amazon may be able to smooth out some of the kinks, but this Eclair-based tablet sounds like it’s going to be no where close to the capabilities and power of the iPad 2.

    Amazon is wisely trying hard to get the basic UI responsiveness to be iPad-like. We’ll see how close they can get with sub-par hardware & OS.

    Overall, the UI of this Kindle felt very responsive. You can flick through the carousel seamlessly. This is something Amazon has apparently been working on quite a bit, I?m told. And they continue to. Some of the page-turning touch mechanics still needed a bit of work in the version I used.

    If Amazon running a pre-Android 2.2 variant can get the basic UI to be more responsive than the latest “real” Android releases, the Anything-but-Apple crowd will care even less about new Android releases and focus solely on Amazon releases. And developers could start to develop for the Amazon variant rather than the official Android version.

    I’d bet this is already happening in China and will happen even more when Baidu comes out with their variant. All these “Android” successes can only minimally be monetized by Google.

         
  • Posted: 08 September 2011 06:05 PM #15

    Drew Bear - 08 September 2011 08:49 PM

    If Amazon running a pre-Android 2.2 variant can get the basic UI to be more responsive than the latest “real” Android releases, the Anything-but-Apple crowd will care even less about new Android releases and focus solely on Amazon releases.

    Or perhaps the Anything-but-Apple crowd gets so confused by the Android forks and fragments that they return in droves to their original north star, Windows? 

    How weird would that be if Bezos has given Ballmer the opening he needed to get back in the game, by Amazon torpedoing Android-Google?