If Google is laying down the law, that's a good thingEvan Selleck - Contributing Editor
Over the years, ever since Android hit the scene, the argument between Google’s mobile operating system and Apple’s platform has been open vs closed. For a lot of people, it looked like Android was an answer to Apple’s then iPhone OS. To offer an open area, where pretty much anything could be realized by someone with the know-how. Want a different lock screen? Android offers that, along with a laundry list of other alterations you can achieve, many of which manufacturers take full advantage of. Two mobile platforms, sitting on one side of the spectrum. Much more different than they are similar.
But that’s a good thing. While opposing one another, the very presence means we get new features on both mobile operating systems much faster than we would if there were only one. They’ve both got to try to stay one, or two, steps ahead of the other, and more often than not it’s the consumer that benefits. A world in which Apple uses Android, or where Android doesn’t exist at all (perhaps filled by Microsoft’s Windows Phone?), just doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s a scary one, in fact. I’ve come to accept that Android and iOS are the top of the pile, and it will be like that for some time.
There’s been another constant over the years, ever since Android’s release into the wild: Google’s gradual descent into the shadows. While it should be common knowledge that Android is Google’s mobile baby, that’s not always the case. Some folks just consider their Android phone “a Samsung,” or, perhaps worse, “a Droid.” And while both Motorola and Samsung probably love that, thanks to marketing efforts and market presence in general, it has to be frustrating for Google. If it weren’t for the Nexus lineup, and most recently the Google Play edition handsets, if the general consumer had no idea Google had anything to do with Android, I don’t think it would be all their fault.
It sounds like this may be changing, though.
A little more than a year ago, there was a story making the rounds that Samsung had gained all the power when it came to Android. So much so, in fact, that they were basically calling the shots in a lot of different areas. That any arguments from Google about software features, tweaks, or anything in between pretty much fell on deaf ears. Samsung’s proprietary software continued to dominate the Android world, along with Samsung’s brand. There’s no denying that Samsung is the head of the Android army, and many reports considered Samsung actually taking advantage of that power in a lot of different ways.
Most recently, though, there was a shift to the narrative. While those original Samsung-is-king stories disappeared with time, these newest reports paint quite the different picture. One where, essentially, Google is taking the power back, and actually enforcing some of their leverage to get some things changed. Like, with Samsung, we’re hearing that there won’t be such a huge focus from the manufacturer on their own products, which they had been building to replace a lot of Google’s own services. Don’t want to use Google Now? That’s okay, because Samsung has S Voice. And so on, and so forth.
Basically, if you’ve already decided on the Galaxy S5 as your next device based on previous handsets, it looks like you may be in for quite the shock later this month.
And now, according to an alleged leak memo, it looks like Google is continuing to institute some pressure when it comes to Android. The leaked memo, which was reportedly sent from Google’s Android team to at least one Android OEM partner, says that Android will no longer approve new devices that aren’t running the latest version of their mobile platform. The necessary pull quote goes like this:
“Starting February 2014, Google will no longer approve GMS distribution on new Android products that ship older platform releases. Each platform release will have a 'GMS approval window' that typically closes nine months after the next Android platform release is publicly available.”
Without GMS approval, a device would no longer have access to applications like Google Maps, Google Now, or even Hangouts (the standard text messaging function on Android these days). If this is indeed the way that Google is moving, it sounds pretty great to me. Forcing companies to launch new devices with current software should have been the standard right out of the gate, but it’s something that the Android ecosystem has been missing pretty much from day one.
A tighter hold on Android, and what expectations should be reached for from Google, is not a bad thing. These devices wouldn’t suffer. I know a lot of people who have skipped new devices simply because they haven’t been loaded with the current version of the platform they’re trying to use, which is completely justifiable. This would fix that situation, if it is indeed true.
What do you think? Is this something that Google should have forced a long time ago, or is it unnecessary? Let me know what you think.