The IDC recently released their figures for smartphone shipments for Q2 2011 and it’s rather obvious that Nokia has had its lunch eaten without so much as putting up a fight. Apple, formerly the undisputed leader in terms of profits from their smartphone sales moved into the #1 spot with Samsung clinching the #2 spot. Both individual achievements are astonishing when looking at their previous years’ figures but it’s Samsung’s in particular that has been mind-blowing with 421% growth year-on-year coming at the expense of Nokia and RIM of course. The sort of growth Samsung has seen in the past year is nothing short of staggering but it should have been expected what with their very successful Galaxy line last year and their massive success in capturing the US market along with HTC.
The success of these two manufacturers (HTC and Samsung) is down to a single entity and it’s forays into the smartphone market, Google. Before the emergence of Android as a truly viable platform in 2009, HTC and Samsung were also rans in the smartphone space, Samsung making forays into Symbian & Windows Mobile with little real success and HTC being almost a non-existent brand but manufacturing devices for carriers as an ODM; yet now these two are the premier brands in the Android space and by proxy the general smartphone market all thanks to Google.
How is it that these OEM’s have managed to release so many different devices, so quickly and iterate and improve upon the technologies in them in such a rapid fashion as to leave the others in the market, Palm, Nokia, RIM all gasping for air? A large part of that has to do with cost. Samsung, who were part of the Symbian foundation jumped ship as soon as they realized that for little actual developer input and monetary outlay they could get a fully functional OS, cloud, mapping and applications support which they wouldn’t need to maintain and a lack of hefty licensing fees that came with their Symbian and Windows Mobile forays. It was perfect for them. HTC, similarly realising the opportunity jumped on the bandwagon, hard and Google were only happy to have them and their enthusiasm for the budding platform. The cost savings to OEM’s meant they could increase the quality and quantity of their devices significantly while incurring no extra cost compared to other platforms.
It was a win for both parties, Google would gain a growing foothold in what seemed like a very profitable market and OEM’s would increase their margins. On top of all of this Google could go around blowing their trumpet about being an Open Source platform, the antithesis to Apple’s locked down and controlled experience. Android had variety, it was free, it was ‘cool’ and it certainly didn’t hurt that Android was growing into something “good” too.
Eventually there came trouble. In 2010 Android was growing in popularity and sales at a phenomenal pace, “halo” devices were being released by every manufacturer on what seemed like a 6 month cadence, performance and features went through the roof and as Google’s OS grew in ubiquity, so did the heaviness of their hand. The Skyhook debacle and the delays of a few Motorola devices and the GPS bugs that plagued the initial releases of the Galaxy S family in summer of 2010 are testament to that. For reasons that Google provided and attempted to justify later as was seen in a series of emails between the Motorola CEO, Skyhook representatives and high level Google employees, using the Skyhook service for Geolocation on Android devices wouldn’t be allowed, even if it provided faster locks and lower power to do so because it interfered with Google’s ability to collect adequate location data. Now I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with trying to protect ones interests as far as your services and reputation are concerned but blocking the launch of a device because it uses a competitor’s services which just so happen to be rather good reeks of anticompetitive practice.
Legal documents pored over by Nilay Patel over at ThisIsMyNext (soon to be The Verge) paint an increasingly dark picture of the situation inside the making of Google-powered devices. In essence, in order to launch your device with Google applications and services, you have to receive certification of your device and any modifications to Android from Google. Understandable to reduce fragmentation but the issue with Android certification is the fluidity of it all. The head honchos at Google can quite literally veto the release of any Android device on the grounds of refused certification. Whilst there are certainly clear guidelines involved, that degree of uncertainty allows Google to literally bludgeon and herd OEM’s to their whims. An untenable situation to say the least.
When you look at the recent legal fallout and the success we’ve been seeing in these lawsuits, it’s growing abundantly clear that Android uses or used intellectual property belonging to other companies. The thing is, Google isn’t selling Android, it simply makes it available. Those that use Android, the OEM’s that have brought record profits and revenues to both themselves and Google alike have been held liable for all the legal fallout and financial burden associate with these lawsuits. Increases in the success of Android will only serve to worsen these issues. And if recent blog posts are to believed, Google is certainly concerned. If Microsoft, Apple, Nokia, Motorola and a whole hosts of others who’re having their technologies and patents infringed and are suing or cross-licensing for a cut of every Android device shipped, when added to the cost of licensing Android applications, the costs of a “free” and “open” OS really outweigh other options.
This certainly opens the door for other projects such as WebOS, MeeGo and even Windows Phone as possibly cheaper and less legally questionable as Android. What do you think of recent developments around Android and how do you feel about intellectual property in the mobile landscape? Sound off below.
Editor’s Note: Android has recently been deemed the least open of mobile open source platforms, now let’s all act surprised.