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Android and the Road to Perdition


The playing field of OEMs clearly isn't level.

"Welcome to the Open Handset Alliance™, a group of 65 technology and mobile companies who have come together to accelerate innovation in mobile and offer consumers a richer, less expensive, and better mobile experience" for the benefit of Google (GOOG).

I know that last phrase isn't on their website, but it might as well be.

A couple of months ago I wrote about Android being a double-edged sword for any handset OEM electing to base products on its architecture. As expected, "royalty free" comes at a price.

The critical point is that whether you're HTC, Motorola (MOT), Dell (DELL), or any handset OEM, if you're designing for Android, you're essentially reselling other people's software and semiconductor intellectual property (IP). There's nothing inherently wrong with that since that's been the business model of the personal computer industry for about 30 years. However, for the model to work, it's vital that the OEMs are on a level playing field. But, last week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) demonstrated that they're not.

By introducing the long-rumored Nexus One smartphone, Google has entered into direct competition with its partners. Clearly the term "partner" has a different definition within the Google-plex. However, there's a twist to this drama that I find much more troubling and, while no one will comment publicly, I'm certain some of the "partners" do too.

When Nexus One was introduced last week, Google announced that it would include version 2.1 of the Android operating system. It appears that v2.1 has yet to be turned over to the open-source community, so all other Android-based phones will be disadvantaged for an unknown period of time. When it comes to a level playing field, apparently some are more equal than others. Think about that when you consider past comments from various Android "partners" about their close working relationship with Google.

If there are winners in this black-widow death dance it may well be LG and Samsung. While both have announced Android-based phones, neither has "bet the ranch" on the platform. Both have continued to develop for and promote alternatives. And if there was ever a reason to retain Windows Mobile (MSFT) as a viable alternative, Google just gave it to you.
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