According to Bloomberg, Google is cracking down on fragmentation.
Android partners will soon need to have plans pre-approved by Google. If they don’t, Google will block access to updated versions of their “open” source Android software, prevent inclusion of standard Google apps like Gmail and Maps, and exclude them from the Android Marketplace.
By doing so, Google is looking to “encourage” better hardware standardization, and to minimize the number and types of changes manufacturers can make to the Android source code itself.
To cut down on Android device “fragmentation”, and to prevent manufacturers from shipping products that might reflect badly on the Android platform.
All laudable goals. And, truth be told, probably needed. But the very idea of Android “standardization” could backfire.
We have precedent for this, because Microsoft did the same thing with Windows, dictating ever stricter hardware standards and forbidding OS changes (though you were apparently free to install as much bloatware as you liked).
And the result?
Hardware among vendors was effectively identical. The software was identical. And manufacturers well left with little to differentiate a Dell PC from an HP PC from an Acer PC. Change the beige plastic to black plastic? Add some trim? Dell and Gateway tried to make a go of it via the customization route, but faced increased competition from manufacturers who were left with just a single weapon in their toolkit.
What happens when dozens of companies are producing identical products? You end up with a commodity. And how are commodities traded and sold?
And so manufacturers did the only thing they could do: undercut each other on price, to the point where PC profit margins were things best measured in dimes, not dollars.
I predict the same thing happening to Android.
With no significant differentiation, the majority of Android devices will end up being heavily discounted, or even given away as loss leaders by carriers and others attempting to lock subscribers into subscription plans. (Think Verizon and Amazon and even the New York Times.)
But look at it this way. Finally, Android will be “free”.