A Critical Look at the Android Fragmentation Debate
A Debate Contaminated with a False Romanticism
Whenever tech opinion makers discuss the fate of Android's mobile platform, they always start their arguments by describing the beginnings of the Android operating system with an unwarranted amount of romantic idealism. They describe this time in Android's history as a period of openness, when anything was possible. But it's worth remembering that the reason why Google got into the mobile phone business in the first place wasn't all about creating an open ecosystem for developers.
For all the sophisticated products it develops, Google still makes the majority of its money the old-fashioned way: by selling ads. Google entered the mobile phone business because it had to enter the mobile phone business or risk a slow, but inevitable, fade into irrelevency. The only way to combat this was to create a product so ubiquitious that people would have to use the company's search when using their cell phones. It wasn't about creating an open platform so much as it was about creating ubiquity. It's that simple...and unromantic.
The Math Geek Becomes Class President
As Android has become more and more ubiquitious, it has acquired a truly staggering number of skins. But not all Android devices are created equal. While HTCs whirred, others were fantastic flops. It's now possible to buy two different Android devices and have two completely different experiences with them. Samsung's Galaxy is a phone that should rightly make Google proud, but a phone like LG's Optimis 2X is so poorly created as to be entirely unfriendly to users. Would we accept this kind of varying quality from a car maker? A drug manufacturer?
As the platform has matured, Google has begun to realize that it can no longer rely soley on the opinions of developers - its first friends - as absolute fact. The average user could care less about the philosophy behind their Android phones. Now Android must begin to think deeply about the majority of people who use their product. These people likely have no idea of the unique beginnings of Android; they just want a slick new phone they can show off to their friends. The company now cannot afford to be forced to continue to appeal to its early fanatics at the expense of its future customers.
While it may seem like the company is doing incredibly well (and it is) one must remember that the mobile phone world is the Wild Wild West, where fortunes are made quicker and lost more dramatically than at the Bellagio. One must only look at Nokia's Symbian to see how quickly an operating system can go from ubiquitious to obsolete.
The Product Must Now Be More Profound Than the Ideas Behind It
Examples abound of amazing ideas that failed along the tough, confusing road towards production. Ideas are great, but when the products built around them fail to be equally profound, what are their purposes?
And so we now arrive at a point where someone has to do something to standardize the quality of Google phones. Quite frankly, we're sick of the duds. It's hard enough choosing a phone without constantly wondering whether the Android system we know and love will even work properly on it. Standardization must occur.
The point of this is not to get rid of individual skins, but to cut down on the number of phones released that just don't work like they're supposed to. And while it may pain the romantics to hear all this, anything that helps Android's march toward world domination must be a good thing, no?