Is Google the new Microsoft? Maybe -- but that's the wrong question. More to the point is this: Can Google avoid tripping over its own feet as it strives to make Android a serious mobile platform? As my trusty Magic Eight Ball used to say, "All signs point to no."
OK, that's not exactly what the Magic Eight Ball used to say, but it's close enough. Google doesn't know what to do with the Android platform: Should it be open, or should it be controlled by Google? Either alternative could work, but the halfway solution we've seen so far is a setup for failure.
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"Google wants it both ways," says Michael Gartenberg, a partner in the Altimeter Group. "They want the perception of being open and the idea of being able to support everyone, but they also want their own vision for the hardware and the platform," he tells me. As a result, device makers and developers are confused, customers are disappointed, and -- worst of all -- the Android platform is fragmenting.
Things in Android land are so bad, you have to wonder if the only company that has a chance to give Apple a run for its mobile money is, believe it or not, Microsoft and its forthcoming Windows Phone 7.
Google's Android is fragmented as Google stumbles about
Google's modus operandi is to whip out software at a lightning pace, then fix the bugs and add the missing features later. While that strategy has succeeded extraordinarily well on the Web, it doesn't work at all for consumer hardware and the software that runs on it. Google is so clueless about consumer electronics that it launched the Nexus One without a plan to provide customer support. What's more, the mobile world works on a pace that makes Moore's Law seem snail-like.
Device makers can't move as fast as Google's software developers. It takes time to optimize hardware and the software that runs on it. Once that task is complete, the vendor isn't going to throw out the work before getting some sort of payoff. One example is the Motorola Backflip, which runs version 1.1 of Android, notes Gartenberg, while other smartphones run version 2.1. Still others run version 1.6 or 2.0. That would be like going to the store and seeing PCs for sale that run Windows 98 next to Vista and Windows 7 machines.