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Google has successfully turned most handset companies into re-sellers for its Android platform.
The lure to these companies? An opportunity to make a generational leap that few could manage on their own. The result? Proliferation of smart-phones. Economies of scale driving down cost of components such as touch screens. Access to the latest in technology has been democratized. Small regional brands can now offer handsets as good or even better than the industry leaders. It’s great for consumers. But how about the handset makers?
Conversation in the context of mobile devices has moved to OS version, CPU Clock rate, and Screen size. The winning brands are ones which are able to keep pace with the latest release of Android. TV commercials use the market place apps to communicate the cool factor. User experience is standard! And differentiation???
Innovation is now truly democratized.
The differentiation issue is compounded further by the fact the Android is open source. Even as Google churns out features and capabilities in its latest releases, developers worldwide are free to exercise their own creativity in making Android an even better experience. Swype input is a great example. It shows that third party software no longer needs to be limited to over the top apps, such as games and other utilities. Third parties can influence how things get done on a phone at a most fundamental level, like never before. In the past, such enhancement would require changes to what they called the phone ‘firmware’. A process that could take an year to come around, if at all it passed all the bureaucratic hurdles of marketing, engineering, program management, and other such artifacts of corporate processes. On Android though, it’s possible for an entrepreneur to create something and distribute that over the internet.
It is true that Android has a huge choice of applications in the market place. There is an app for every conceivable need. Therefore, users can easily pick up apps from the store, and modify their device to suit their needs. But in reality, it’s not that easy for the average user. Not all apps in the market place are benign. It is possible to lose ones personal information and passwords with the use of bad apps present there. It’s not even obvious to customers how they can customize their device.
Therefore, there is a case for OEMs to take a closer look at what their customers need and offer such capabilities in their devices. Open nature of the Android platform makes it possible to alter the phone behavior very easily. The challenge is to make use of this flexibility while not losing ability to upgrade to the latest version of the OS.
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