Confusion in the post-Android market

So. Samsung will open-source bada next year so that developers can improve it and other device vendors use it. The Register does not believe the news, while GigaOM correctly points out that Samsung won’t gain anything by open-sourcing bada.

Meanwhile, the HP board dumps CEO Apotheker and instates Whitman, who vows to retain Apotheker’s strategies, even though it was exactly those strategies that got Apotheker fired. The spin-off of the PC unit may be cancelled, even though it constitutes about 90% of the current strategy. The webOS team is rumoured to be downsized, which does not make sense at all if HP wants to do something useful with it.

Oh my.

Let’s update the story:

  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. Right now Android needs Samsung and HTC more than Samsung and HTC need Android.
  6. 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.
  7. Device vendors and operators also very much want their own app stores preinstalled instead of the Android Market.
  8. 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.
  9. Own OSs or liberalised Android, the traditional device vendors have won against Google.
  10. Android is in serious trouble. Even if it survives as a major OS its fragmentation problems will spread to the core: the Android Market.
  11. And all this is quite distinct from the patent problems.
  12. Through Motorola, Google owns a web-based OS that we’ll call MotOS for now. Its status is uncertain, but it is at least conceivable that Google has an alternative to Android.
  13. So one possible course of action would be to ditch Android altogether and continue with MotOS. (Android would probably be opened entirely, and some vendors, notably the Chinese ones, would continue to use it, but Google itself would focus on MotOS.)
  14. Or Google could try for a two-OS strategy. This would keep the Android folks happy.
  15. Either of these strategies would make Google’s fate in the mobile sphere independent of Android’s — and I think that’s a good idea right now. Android may go down, but it won’t take Google with it.
  16. Conversely, if Google would continue only with Android, it would firmly tie itself to a troubled OS.
  17. I feel Google needs MotOS, whether it’s ready or not.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.)
  20. Then Samsung states it will never buy webOS.
  21. HTC says it’s interested in other OSs, but “won’t be rushed” — unlike certain other large Android vendors it could mention.
  22. Everybody agrees webOS is the most likely candidate. It has a natural constituency that MeeGo and Windows Phone lack: web developers.
  23. I heard Sony (Ericsson?) is also interested in webOS; and that even Samsung might reconsider. Rumours, and nothing more, but they’re all we have right now.
  24. The webOS team is about to lose 500 people. That’s not the thing to do if you want to continue to develop the OS.
  25. Then HP swaps its CEO, and the new one vows to continue the current strategy, except for spinning off the PC division, which constitutes about 90% of the current strategy. webOS’s future is uncertain.
  26. 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.
  27. HP should either make webOS devices themselves (and market them well, and reach out to web developers), or, preferably, sell webOS outright. A licensing scenario is probably the least good idea.
  28. Still, the cut in the webOS team does not make sense in any of these scenarios.
  29. Update: I've been given to understand that the cuts will affect only hardware and distribution, and not software. That means that sale or licensing are still feasible, though restarting the production of hardware is not. I'm still in favour of outright sale.
  30. After webOS, Samsung is said to be interested in MeeGo, but later denies it. It will focus on its own OS: bada.
  31. Samsung is the only traditional mobile power that has a strategy in place: it is quietly growing bada while Android’s in the spotlights. When the time comes to leave Android, bada will be allowed to come forward as an alternative. That time is now, and Samsung has prepared for this moment for years.
  32. Then Samsung announces it will open-sources bada. Do they want other vendors to adopt it? Fat chance; it would merely make Samsung take Google’s place. No doubt strings will be attached to trip the unwary.
  33. ???????
  34. I have no clue what Samsung is doing. Worse, it seems that even Samsung has no clue what Samsung is doing.

The Android market share is up for grabs. Apple will capture a juicy part with the iPhone Nano, and the rest will remain with the Android vendors, although it’s unclear which OSs they’ll use.

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 other OSs — or not.

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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