The end of Android as we know it

Given three major threats brewing, it's hard to see how Google's Android sustains its momentum any longer

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Threat No. 2: No strong commitment to Android from device makers

Samsung has been able to ride Android to become one of the top smartphone sellers in the world, trailing only Apple. But Samsung trots out many horses, not just Android. It has its own Windows Phone, the Focus S, and is working on Windows 8-based devices. It also has had good results from its Bada OS, used in entry-level smartphones both for poorer customers in Europe and the large untapped market in developing countries. Additionally, Samsung recently decided to merge its Bada OS with the open source Tizen OS core, which could give it more resources to expand Bada's presence.

It's true that most of the Android device innovation is coming from Samsung and no one else. But those innovations are almost all on the hardware side, and they could be used in Windows Phone, Bada, and other devices. Anyone who believes Samsung is deeply invested in Android is wrong; Samsung will play wherever it needs to, working with anyone and everyone, which has long been the successful strategy of large Asian electronics firms. Android is a convenient -- and so far successful -- platform for Samsung's ambitions, but Samsung will drop Android should the need arise.

The other Asian manufacturers using Android are even more opportunistic. Despite a promising start, HTC adds little to the Android platform at any level, delivering a generic hardware and software experience more in line with the traditional "disposable cellphone" strategy long standard in the mobile business than with the "your platform forever" strategy RIM introduced with the BlackBerry more than a decade ago and that Apple has taken to a whole new level with iOS. Acer, Asus, Sony, and the rest are even more generic, with innovations centered around superficial qualities such as bezel design or obviously self-interested proprietary services that are poor imitations of iTunes, iCloud, or BlackBerry Messenger.

Some people believe the "fair-weather friend" nature of these companies explains Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility. Remember -- all those terrible 7-inch tablets based on Android 2.2 "Froyo" were made despite Google's public pleas not to. But the OEMs didn't care; they thought they might sell a bunch of these patch jobs during the 2010 holiday season, tempting buyers who wanted an iPad-like device for less money. Google's Motorola buyout began soon after. And we saw last year how quickly Samsung and Acer "forgot" about their Chromebooks, after Google's poorly conceived Internet-only Chrome OS tanked.

Whether or not that was Google's main justification -- Motorola's mobile patents are just as often cited as the reason -- even the starry-eyed folks at Google have to understand by now the OEMs' uncommitted commitment to Android. They're committed to cheap, free, and easy. (As are the cellular carriers, who keep pushing non-Apple products to no avail because they make more money in the short term on the competitors' sales. However, those customers turn over more frequently, reducing carriers' long-term profits. Oh, the joys of quarterly earnings!)

Basically, there's no strong loyalty to Android -- not from device makers, not from carriers, and perhaps not from customers who regard their Android smartphone as simply a smartphone (its Androidness being incidental) or a gateway to an iPhone. "Easy come, easy go" may be Android's epitaph.

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