Two Unexpected, Potential Scenarios for Android
We've done a number of posts lately on the incredible momentum that the open source Android operating system has. It's being supported by nearly every major smartphone maker, with players such as Acer and Motorola putting huge bets behind it. Acer's new "Liquid" Android smartphone has the trendy Snapdragon chip from Qualcomm built in, a sign that the OS could boost the prospects of cutting-edge new processors. Verizon Wireless recently inked a broad-based deal (GigaOm Pro, sub. req'd) with Google that will mean, since T-Mobile and Sprint are also on board, that U.S.-based Android phone users will have solid choice among wireless carriers. Yesterday, Acer announced that it is going to offer dual-boot versions of its popular Aspire One netbooks that run both Android and the upcoming Windows 7 OS. That could potentially help Android spread to many new users who wouldn't otherwise try it.
But, precisely because of the new horizons for Android, there are some unexpected directions it could go in, some good, some bad. Here are two scenarios that I don't think are widely expected.
Scenario 1: Too Much Fragmentation. How many fragmented directions is Android headed in? As we recently covered, the Open Android Alliance is a group effort to produce a version of Android that comes only with free, open source applications (not Google's proprietary ones, for example). MIPS is offering its own derivative version of Android, and ARCHOS has its own app store for Android, separate from Android Market. China and other parts of the world are distributing their own derivative versions of Android as well.
This may all sound well and good from the perspective of forking the operating system in true open source fashion, and exploring new directions, but Business Week has raised a good question: "Could Android's Spread Become a Problem?" Among other things, many versions of Android may require application developers to build several iterations of their offerings for various Android platforms. That could be a major problem as Apple's App Store continues to outpace all others, where developers write for one cohesive platform.
Scenario 2: An Android Foundation? ZDNet asks the excellent question, "Should Google Spin Android Into a Foundation?" Foundations, such as the Apache Foundation, can have an enormously positive impact on open source platforms and applications. But ZDnet's Dana Blankenhorn points this out: "It doesn’t always work. Witness LiMo, which Motorola recently abandoned for Android. Witness Moblin, which Intel gave to the Linux Foundation. Witness Symbian itself for that matter." He also points out that foundations lead to lots of forks, which raises the possibility of problems like the ones cited in scenario one above. Would an Android foundation necessarily be good? What do you think?