Greg's Bite: Android Platform Fragmenting
By Greg Mills
Apple is certainly on a roll. As the stock market has gyrated the last few days due to the downgrade of US Treasury debt, Apple replaced Mobile/Exon as the most valuable company in the world by market cap. Over the last week or so, Apple got Samsung's new touch screen tablet banned in Australia and Europe. HTC took a hit in the US International Trade Commission and may also face import bans on its Android handsets in the US market.
While the patent infringement suits Apple filed agains all the Android handset makers is drawing blood from a standpoint of infringement and potential damages, the effect is also fragmenting the Android platform. Cohesion and uniformity define a platform and make it attractive to developers.
Android is already fractured into various operating systems that aren't necessarily compatible with all the Android handsets that have come out. Further, apps that run on some Android operating systems might not run on all of them. This problem may soon be much worse and see all existing apps broken by a new Android OS that is incompatible with current Android operating systems.
The prospects are likely, that due to Apple patents on the technology of the handsets themselves and the software that runs them, revisions of both Android hardware and operating system software will result in lots of broken apps, incompatible operating systems and orphaned handsets that aren't that old. Consumers won't be happy and the cellular networks the support Android, (all of them) will have fits.
Adding fuel to the fire, Motorola has make rumblings recently that it intends to sue other Android handset makers who are infringing on Motorola patents. Perhaps the oldest company in the Android platform, Motorola has a lot of patents in its portfolio. The bottom line is that adding further litigation and royalties to the Android platform will further reduce the attractiveness of the platform for handset makers. (See http://www.informationweek.com/news/mobility/business/231400090 .)
Apple's legal staff has to be grinning right now as Google scrambles to protect its Android franchise against all the legal problems that have come up. At the same time as the Android nightmare is unfolding, Apple prepares to launch iOS 5 and iPhone 5. You have to expect the iPad 3 soon, as well.
The platform loyalty issue is such that it won't take a whole lot of Android handsets being orphaned, apps broken and confusion about which Android operating system to use for the market bubble to burst. Most existing Android users are seriously considering going to Apple's iOS devices anyway. Motorola just lowered the Zoom touch screen table prices by $100 to compete with iPad. That may not be enough to induce people to accept a cheap alternative to iPad. Zoom is nice but not magic.
That's Greg's Bite for today.