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Google aims for purity with Android Silver

Matt Hamblen | May 5, 2014
Is the Android Silver initiative mostly a rebranding effort for existing Nexus smartphones, or is it something much more?

Not by a long shot. If Silver is rolled out, it would only be a few phones at a time, reportedly, and there would still be a huge global market for the many low-cost Android phones being sold, many in undeveloped countries where low prices matter more. A particular Android version and add-on apps don't matter to many end users, although that might be an issue for an IT administrator faced with supporting so many different devices.

Strategy Analytics last month released a survey of 250-plus Galaxy S4 and S4 users which found they spent very little time using Samsung custom apps when compared to the time spent on just three Google apps.

The survey indicates what many customers already realize: It's easy to ignore third-party bloatware. You might not be able to remove the custom apps in some cases, which can leave a phone's interface cluttered and ugly, but it isn't clear that matters much to many smartphone users.

Having an updated OS might matter more than a bunch of bloatware, especially to get to Android versions that delete bugs and add vital security features.

Google clearly seems sensitive to that need, although, again, Android Silver wouldn't be attractive to much of the world that wants cheaper phones.

5. So, what vendors will want to make Android Silver phones?

Lenovo, which bought Motorola Mobility for nearly $3 billion from Google, would seem to be a candidate for U.S.-based smartphones with the Android Silver concept. That would give the former Google subsidiary an inroad in the high-end U.S. market, where more customers are willing to upgrade on a regular basis than in developing countries.

Many other smaller manufactures might also want to be part of Android Silver, if only to benefit from Google marketing and support. And having one phone in an entire manufacturer's line based on Android Silver might not be so difficult for some vendors.

"It is likely that most Android vendors will be forced to take Android Silver due to competitive pressure," said ABI analyst Nick Spencer. "Samsung is the only vendor with the power to resist, but I suspect they won't do so in the short term as they are pragmatic and opportunistic at heart."

6. Really, how serious an issue is Android fragmentation for Google?

Here's one answer: Spencer and ABI have seen a growing financial impact from Android fragmentation on Google, not just on Android customers and manufacturers.

ABI reported in January that 32% of the 221.5 million Android phones shipped in the fourth quarter of 2013 used forked versions from Android Open Source Project (AOSP) manufacturers — an increase from 20% a year earlier.


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