Is it Too Late For an Open Source Challenge to Android?

by Ostatic Staff - Nov. 19, 2010

This week, there were more signs than ever that Android has reached its ascendancy, with growth to come stretching as far as the eye can see. As GigaOM notes, Android mobile ad impressions drew even with Apple's iOS for the first time, according to Millennial Media (PDF). That's hugely important to Google, which has positioned both Android and Chrome OS as platforms that can steer more users toward its lucrative search-and-ad ecosystem.

Meanwhile, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak--no slouch when it comes to forecasting the future--predicted that Android will be the dominant smartphone platform, comparing it to the dominance of Windows. As Android spreads its influence and grabs market share, though, it's worth considering the fact that an organized open source challenge to it could have much promise.

Many smart technology players have already explored customizing Android for their own benefit--part of the attraction that it has as an open source platform. Motorola's MotoBlur interface, for example, is a full-fledged custom environment on top of the mobile OS. And ZDNet notes that Verizon and Motorola have both shipped Android phones with Bing, not Google, as the default search engine. ZDNet adds this:

"Manufacturers can now compete directly with the iPhone, make their own deals on search, and return to the status quo that existed when Symbian ruled the mobile Earth, only without those nasty royalty payments, or having to learn Finnish."

If Android is such an open source success, though, and represents such an opportunity for customization from everyone from Motorola to Verizon, then it's worth considering whether a competent, well-funded open source challenger could eventually go toe-to-toe with it.  Consider the facts:

  • Android only began gaining momentum as recently as March of last year.
  • Symbian's open source challenge got bogged down and didn't arrive in time, but could have seriously threatened Android.
  • Android's core is open, and much of the work necessary for a challenger to threaten Android is already done.

If anything, players in the mobile OS space should be looking at ways to meet and then exceed the success that Android has had, and another open, mobile OS would be the ideal challenger. This challenger would need to come with the backing of a big company or organization, and it doesn't look like Symbian and Nokia will be able to deliver on the idea.

Think about it, though, in March of last year, everyone was convinced that Android had stalled, and might not have much promise at all.  In the history of operating systems, did Apple throw in the towel after Microsoft had a little over a year of success with Windows? Did the whole Linux community throw in the towel after that brief spurt of success from Microsoft? No and no. The Mac OS and Linux have gone onto their own successes in the ensuing years. It is a tremendous fallacy that only one company or organization--or two, for that matter--can dominate a large technology market.

That's why smart players in the mobile business should take Android as proof-of-concept that an open platform can challenge closed ones, and run with brand new ideas. They should observe Steve Wozniak predicting that Android will become as dominant as Windows, then remember that the platform that Woz helped create has been the primary challenger to Windows over the years. If you believe that competition is healthy in technology, spurring new, competitive mobile OS ideas on might be Android's biggest success of all.