After I/O: Google tries to be Sony, hobbles Android's business case

Google Play, Nexus 7, Google Glass, and Nexus Q all point to a consumer electronics focus for Android

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Now look at the Android OS. The latest version, Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean," does nothing to improve the out-of-the-box management and security capabilities introduced in the tablet-oriented Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" a year ago and brought to smartphones in Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich," which only about 10 percent of Android devices actually now run. Yes, Samsung and Motorola Mobility have added such capabilities to some smartphones running Android 2.3 "Gingerbread," the most common Android version. But the core Android OS has not progressed in this area for a year, and long-standing security holes such as subpar VPN support, nonvetted apps, and poorly protected Wi-Fi support remain in all the Android versions.

That entertainment focus may be the right move for Google -- there's a lot of money in the space, and Apple is proving hard to beat in the business market even as Android does well in the consumer smartphone market. Furthermore, Google's business is based on advertising, and having a play-oriented platform that collects data about where people spend their time and discretionary dollars -- made possible in the new Google Now service in Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" -- could reap Google billions as it sells individuals' behavior profiles to consumer goods and services companies.

All of this means Google is likely to focus less over time on business capabilities; in turn, developer interest in creating business apps will likely dip as well. Even before the Google Play focus, Android had far fewer good business apps than iOS. It becomes a self-reinforcing feedback loop that could make Android all about play.

Where Google may continue to invest in business capabilities is in general-purpose office productivity. Google recently bought Quickoffice in an attempt to make its cloud-based Google Docs work on mobile devices. Google Docs has been a consistent priority at Google, and even if Android in general goes into an entertainment direction, Google Docs' importance will likely mean continued investment in Android clients. That's the lowest level of business support, one equally geared to individuals' personal documents as it is to real business work.

Of course, Google is a young company run largely by young people. They like entertainment and games, so trying to be the Sony of the early 21st century could simply reflect their personal priorities. As they get older, they may change focus again -- Google is famous for throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. There's more discipline at Google now, but it's hardly a company set in its ways.

Or that newfound focus could also mean even more deternined efforts to be the new Sony. After all, there are now a half dozen Google devices that could form the basis for a personal Googleplex at home, the fantasy of all consumer electronics vendors. Apple also wants to provide the constellation of computing products and entertainment delivery, but Apple's ambitious are both broader and more compatible with the world at large; its entertainment products work with both Macs and Wndows PCs, for example.

Whatever happens in the long term, right now Android is becoming more about play and less about work. That probably means iOS will become even more entrenched in business and professional uses, while also satisfying most people's desire to play through its own strong set of games and entertainment capabilities.

This article, "After I/O: Google tries to be Sony, hobbles Android's business case," 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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