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A strategic look at Google's move against Android fragmentation

It seems that Google has taken the many complaints about fragmentation to heart and will begin taking a closer look at what manufacturers change in terms of UI and what carriers throw on in terms of apps when deciding who gets the source code early. You can read Christian's post earlier for a technical look at what exactly will change in terms of manufacturers and carriers, but read past the break for a more strategic look at what this means. 

The move, while not entirely surprizing, comes as a bit of a shock to some manufacturers and carriers. On the one hand, Android started as an open platform that could be developped and build on top to create the experience specific users may seek, on the other hand, manufacturers and carriers have gotten greedy, locking their bootloaders and the crapware they package with the phones so as a user, you don't get the same openness you'd want. If things continued as they are right now, it wouldn't be unthinkable that someone may think it's a good idea not to allow users to install their own flavor of home screen replacement or package Skype and ban other chat clients. Google needed to do something and I'm glad they did. 

The app ecosystem is growing healthily, but it's still not quite a match for iOS. This will be especially important in the wake of the upcoming tablet expansion. Apple's pre-prescribed design guidelines may create a more unified and confortable experience, but Android's openness should, in theory, allow for more innovation in design in features. Fragmentation has been a problem since it creates disparity between handsets and user sets and developers aren't sold on the fact that they could earn as much as on iOS if they spent the time to develop a great application. 

Tablets have huge potential, given their big screens and increased computing power (in some cases) and I think users would be inherently more open to paying more (or anything in the first place) for good apps that make their tablet experience better. iOS for the iPad has the 'advantage' of not scaling phone apps to the tablet, thus making tablet-only apps, mostly priced above their phone counterparts, almost required. As I've said before, Android apps scale to fit the screen so developers really need to come up with great ideas, both in terms of functionality and navigational elements, to justity increased prices. This is a challange, but one I hope at least a handful of developers will use to their advantage. Because of this barrier to entry, designing a product that is even half as good as a top iOS for iPad app could put the developer in a good position once users get interested. 

I think the move, more than anything, signals that Google is starting to see Android as a real opportunity, more than a side project funded with money made in Search. Fragmentation has always been on top of the list of critique points, but there's more to be done. Payment is still made only through Google Checkout, though now in-app payments may add a little revenue for developers; the Market is still messy and the discovery process is limited, though having the web-portal as an option to more quickly browse around and pay on a laptop and have the app appear on your phone/tablet is a good first move. Again, there is a lot to be done, but Google is stepping up their game and I think this move should signal confidence in the platform to developers more than a closing off of the platform. It evens the playing field so that corporate greed gets tuned down paving the way for opportunistic developers to step in and take the reigns. 

Source: BusinessWeek

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