Android is poised to grow big -- if Google sticks with it

The company's history creates doubts, but Google has also shown a more strategic side under Larry Page

Google this week made a strong promise for Android everywhere, laying out for the first time an integrated, coordinated strategy for delivering the Android platform across not just smartphones and tablets, but also wearable devices like watches and fitness devices, TVs, and cars. It also promised to make its Web services like Google Docs work better on both mobile and desktop devices, and to make the Chrome OS and Android experiences more similar.

From all appearances, the Android L OS to be released this fall will be Google's iOS 7 moment: a major refresh of its look and feel that I believe will reinvigorate the Android platform as iOS 7 did the iOS platform last fall. The truth is that Android is feeling tired, as iOS had been. And the rest of the Google I/O news is Google's iOS 8 moment: a coordinated expansion of the Android platform to a broad set of devices and services, like what Apple did last month at its WWDC event.

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In terms of ambition, Google is promising to do in one year what Apple promised to do in two years. And Google's reach is a bit broader than Apple's.

Smartphones and tablets have gotten sort of boring, so I'd love to see a revitalized Android joining a revitalized iOS, both spanning devices and services in a gracious, mutually supporting way.

But I'm not sure if Google will stick to its grand ambitions. The company's history is of throwing things against a wall to see what sticks and letting products malinger for years, after all. Even when it tries multiple times, it can feel like the trials are unrelated: The Android TV effort announced this week, for example, is the fourth attempt to do home media devices, and the first three were inconsequential.

Google's attention can wax and wane: Chrome OS started with a big bang, then went for years without the needed improvements, though Google seems to have rediscovered it in the last year. There's even planned synergy between Chrome OS and Android, though it's not nearly as ambitious as what Apple has planned for iOS and OS X.

Google Docs has followed a similar trajectory, with the Quickoffice integration shown this week a hopeful sign of reinvigorated attention -- especially on the mobile front, where Google Docs is just horrible.

Of course, Apple can wax and wane, too: Its iWork suite was largely abandoned from 2009 until 2013. But Apple is less likely to announce initiatives, then let them fade. It does abandon pointless efforts (remember its Ping music special network?), but when an effort doesn't work as planned, it usually keeps trying and learns from its experience: The journey from .Mac to MobileMe to iCloud is an example.

Google can do that, too. You could argue its Android strategy has undertaken a journey from an open platform to get broad adoption to an increasingly controlled (and more refined) platform that leverages that early installed base. That's what Android One effort announced this week is all about: replacing all those AOSP devices that don't run Google's primary moneymaking services with Android One devices that do.

Under CEO Larry Page's tenure, Google is better about targeting its resources, killing dead efforts (rather than let them rot) and more carefully choosing what it invests in and understanding better how the pieces might fit together.

Apple is very good at that, and if Google learns to act that way, it will only get stronger. That doesn't mean it should copy Apple's ecosystem -- which it sometimes feels as if Google is doing -- but that it should copy Apple's habit of managing strategically for the long term.

This week's vision from Google is compelling. Apple's from last month's is compelling. May they both come true. And stay true.

This article, "Android is poised to grow big -- if Google sticks with it," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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