Why Running A Mobile OS By Committee Can Be Very Hard


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Attempting to build consensus among Android vendors is a tricky undertaking in late 2011. As a result, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and its partners appear ready to enter a year in which Android will likely dominate the smartphone market without having come to a formal agreement on how timely software updates will be rolled out to Android phones, once again putting their own needs over the needs of consumers and the platform itself.

It’s not that Android is poised to lose ground among consumers this year: people clearly seem to want an alternative to the iPhone and none of the other competitors—Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 or Research in Motion’s BlackBerry—are in any position to make significant gains at Android’s expense in the short term. And it’s not clear how many average consumers get caught up in these update debates the way more passionate mobile advocates do.

SEE ALSO: Google I/O: New Android Supergroup Hopes To Streamline Update Process

But Android partners are thinking long and hard about their investment in the software heading into 2012, sick of patent taxes and worried about Google’s potential purchase of Motorola: It’s hard to find that many people in the mobile industry who believe that Google will always run Motorola (NYSE: MMI) at arm’s length, as it has insisted it plans to do should U.S. and European regulators approve the $12.5 billion deal.

Even if Google does live up to that promise, it has a recurring problem whenever it tries to enforce standards on Android partners. Many companies signed up for the program with the understanding that they would be able to run their phones as they saw fit rather than having to operate under the yoke of a single company like the way Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) held sway over the PC industry for decades.

If Google is going to enforce the pledge laid out at Google I/O—that ten companies (Verizon, HTC, Samsung, Sprint (NYSE: S), Sony (NYSE: SNE) Ericsson (NSDQ: ERIC), LG (SEO: 066570), T-Mobile, Vodafone (NYSE: VOD), Motorola and AT&T) would ensure that Android phones released after May would be eligible for updates 18 months into the future—then it has to crack the whip with partners. Partners don’t like it when Google cracks the whip or upsets their business models, as shown earlier this year in the flap over anti-fragmentation policies and the short life of the Nexus One Web store.

There’s still time for the Android community to live up to the spirit of that pledge: it only applied to phones released after May and this is just the first major update since then.

But you’d think there would be some value in acknowledging that the Android community is capable of working together to help its customers access the latest and greatest technology. Unless, of course, it isn’t.



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