Amazing as it sounds, Google (GOOG) didn’t develop Android as an altruistic gesture — it developed Android to drive mobile traffic to Google services and thus make more money for the company. While that has so far served the company very well, the platform’s open-source nature means that companies such as Amazon (AMZN) and Samsung (005930) have been able to design their own versions of Android that place less emphasis on staple Google services and more emphasis on their own. Facebook (FB) took things to a whole new level this week when it unveiled Facebook Home, a downloadable app that essentially replaces users’ Android smartphone home screens with Facebook content.
The question now is whether Google will do anything to clamp down more on Android and thus prevent third-party developers from moving it too far away from its origins as a Google-centric operating system. ABI Research analyst Aapo Markkanen expects that Google will exercise some “gradual… muscle flexing” to reassert its control over the platform, though it won’t ever go so far as to close the platform to third-party changes all together. If anything, he simply thinks that Google could bar certain Android overlays such as Home from being distributed through the Google Play store going forward.
“The situation, however, may look pretty different once the current land grab stage of the platform race starts to be over,” he writes. “It is then when it’ll be the right time for Google to start exercising more control over Android. It is unlikely ever to close-source it, but there are also many other levels it could pull. Google Play is an obvious source of control, and then there’s always the option of revamping OHA with a right mix of sticks and carrots – e.g. by investing more in partner-exclusive apps and services, and giving the partners a more privileged (that is, earlier) access to new Android versions’ code.”