Android in trouble

Samsung will not buy MeeGo but instead focuses on bada. Meanwhile HTC confirms it is considering buying its own OS, but “won’t be rushed” — unlike certain other large Android vendors we could mention.

Time to update last week’s overview. #15 is the first new one.

  1. Both Samsung and HTC remark that they need their own OS in the long term. The purpose of having an OS is to own the entire stack from hardware to app store, just as Apple does.
  2. Samsung is reported to be in talks with HP about webOS.
  3. Google buys Motorola. Google wants to make devices in order to own the entire stack from hardware to app store, just as Apple does.
  4. This raises serious questions about Android’s future. The other Android vendors are afraid Motorola will get preferential treatment.
  5. Thus Samsung’s and HTC’s quest for a new OS becomes more urgent. There are three candidates: Windows Phone, webOS, and MeeGo.
  6. The Windows Phone deal is bad: instead of being beholden to Google the device vendors would have to do as Microsoft tells them. And they’d have to pay royalties. And they don’t get to control the entire stack from hardware to app store, just as Apple does.
  7. And Microsoft is threatening to integrate Skype in Windows Phone, and that is something the mobile operators really won’t like — free phone calls are rather high on their Things To Hate list. They could very well cut offenders out of their retail channels, which is something Samsung and HTC really won’t like. (See also Nokia, upcoming problems of.)
  8. Thus Windows Phone will be more expensive and far harder to sell than Android, and it doesn’t solve the fundamental dependency problem. Windows Phone is not the solution.
  9. HP, webOS’s owner, which is in the process of being transformed into an upscale consultancy firm (why? don’t we have enough of them already?), wants to get rid of its hardware divisions, including mobile. They find that entering the mobile market is expensive, in tens of billions of dollars values of expensive, and don’t want to foot the bill. Besides, mobile was the previous CEO’s hobby.
  10. HP is not a software company, and webOS-as-software in HP would be like a swan in a tractor factory: pretty to look at, but not exactly useful, or at one with the environment. Sale is the only option.
  11. When the MotoGoogle bombshell breaks HP hurriedly announces webOS is for sale. They might make a good price for webOS now that many companies are looking for a replacement for Android. So sell it to the highest bidder, whom everbody assumes to be Samsung. This also forces them to reveal the entire reorganisation plan prematurely. (OK, that last statement is conjecture.)
  12. Then Samsung states it will never buy webOS.
  13. Intel, MeeGo’s owner, was betrayed by Nokia, which has stupdily decided to go Windows Phone. Thus Intel owns a promising but half-developed OS without any devices. It does not want to pay billions to enter the mobile market.
  14. Intel draws the same conclusion as HP: sell it now that the market is hot.
  15. Samsung is said to be interested, but later denies it. It will focus on its own OS: bada. A bit late, and lots of confusion could have been avoided, but this message is clear and in line with Samsung’s strategy over the past few years.
  16. HTC says it’s interested in other OSs, but “won’t be rushed” — unlike certain other large Android vendors it could mention.
  17. Everybody agrees webOS is the most likely candidate. It has a natural constituency that MeeGo and Windows Phone lack: web developers. HTC will have to learn to communicate with them, though.
  18. But HTC won’t be rushed. Maybe HP will lower the price.
  19. In theory all of the above also goes for Sony Ericsson, LG, and other Android vendors, but they are already in a lousy position and are less likely to take bold and expensive action.
  20. On the other hand, MeeGo is still in the market, and with Samsung and HTC gone the price may drop.
  21. My guess is that if anyone will use it, it’ll be Sony Ericsson. Unless Nokia forswears Windows Phone and embraces MeeGo. Who knows? Weirder things have happened in the past few weeks.
  22. In any case, Google needs Samsung and HTC more than Samsung and HTC need Google.
  23. Google gave HTC the patents in order to keep it in the Android flock. Google was afraid of desertion — a fear that seems well warranted. (OK, this is conjecture. But it fits.)
  24. Google, developers, and possibly consumers want a unified Android for ease of development. Device vendors and operators want differentiation in order to retain visibility with the consumer.
  25. Device vendors and operators also very very much want their own app stores preinstalled instead of the Android Market.
  26. Samsung and HTC will desert unless Google relaxes its efforts to unify Android and gives the vendors what they want — including their own app stores.
  27. Own OSs or liberalised Android, the traditional device vendors have won against Google.
  28. Android is in serious trouble. Even if it survives as a major OS its fragmentation problems will spread to the core: the Android Market.
  29. The iPhone Nano will wreak slaughter among the divided Android army.
  30. Thou shalt not hare-brainedly enter the mobile device market with a splash and a bang. It upsets the sheep.
  31. You listening, Microsoft? Don’t even think about it.

We’ll only start to notice all this in the market in Q2 or so. All vendors have traditional Android devices in the pipeline, and they’ll be released according to schedule for Christmas and Chinese New Year. It’s the next set of devices that will run a new OS or a liberalised Android.

No doubt we’ll have more news in a few days, after which this line of reasoning turns out to be totally outdated, not to mention misguided and short-sighted. But it is where I stand right now.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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