Microsoft’s patent-pursuit of Android could mean we are heading toward a fragmented world of smartphones, says Nikolas Kolakowski
In the course of promoting Windows Phone, Microsoft executives have seized on Android’s supposed fragmentation issues, arguing that Google’s platform is in serious danger of splitting itself across too many versions on too many different devices.
Google CEO Larry Page has embarked on a quest to refocus his company on its core properties, a strategy that could rein in Android’s fragmentary impulses. Nonetheless, Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility, combined with Microsoft’s attempts to squeeze Android manufacturers into “royalty agreements,” could end up fragmenting the smartphone industry in startling and unexpected ways.
HTC is apparently debating whether to purchase an operating system for its mobile devices. That information comes from Focus Taiwan, which quoted from an interview HTC chairperson Cher Wang held with the Economic Observer of China. “We have given it thought and we have discussed it internally, but we will not do it on impulse,” she said. “We can use any OS we want. We are able to make things different from our rivals on the second or third layer of a platform.”
Samsung has likewise dipped its toe in the smartphone OS waters with Bada, its platform for an increasing number of smartphones. Despite the imminent demise of its smartphone hardware division, Hewlett-Packard is trying to license the webOS operating system it inherited from Palm—and which could, at least in theory, end up purchased by HTC. Intel may also push its MeeGo operating system, despite Nokia’s wholesale abandonment of the platform in favor of Windows Phone.
Beyond Google’s control
Even if Google manages to exert more control on the Android device ecosystem, its manufacturing partners seem increasingly determined to use the platform as a jumping-off point for crafting something unique to their brand. At Samsung’s New York launch of its Galaxy S II smartphone, executives emphasised how they had “skinned” Android on the smartphones with the company’s proprietary TouchWiz interface; they’ve already done a similar thing with the Galaxy Tab 10.1.
So here’s the scenario: iPhone and Android continue to duke it out for smartphone market share, while manufacturers such as HTC and Samsung work to develop alternative device lines running proprietary operating systems. Meanwhile, Microsoft and Research In Motion push Windows Phone and BlackBerry OSes, respectively, and take whatever share they’re due. End result: a smartphone “tank” filled with a few sharks and an enormous amount of guppies and bluefish.
Microsoft contributes toward this fragmentation by pushing forward with its Android strategy, which seeks to offer manufacturers a stark choice: either enter into a royalty agreement for every Android produced, or face Redmond’s army of attorneys in court. Microsoft argues (stridently) that Android violates its patents. But manufacturers might pursue a third option: embrace another platform altogether.