I am a strong advocate of open source systems, creative commons and of any system, or platform, that allows users to have more control over their own gadgets and content. Android, technically, allows me to do this but the reality is much different.
The fact is that even if Google already made ICS available, it will take a long time for all Android users to have the latest OS on their devices and some will never get it. This problem is well-known and is fundamentally based on the fact that lots of manufacturers and carriers, if not all, like to make their own version of the latest Android system thus delaying the update and frustrating users.
A case for uniformity and different business models
If Google were to take control of the Android OS, as I believe it should,OEMs would be able to focus on what they do best (devices) and the advantages would not stop here:
1. Uniformity: If Google were to take control of the Android OS users would know that their device would get the latest version of the OS as soon as it is released. I am sure that there are technical aspects to this that I can’t even start to understand but I can envision Google pushing a light version of the latest OS to older devices and a full featured version to the most recent devices. This way users would know that their 18 month old device would still be getting the latest version of the OS and it would be up to them to decide if they wanted a new device. My guess is that many would still buy the latest model but they would have a choice.
2. New revenue channels: If Samsung, HTC, AT&T, Vodafone and others really want to offer what they think is the best experience for the users they should look at this as a business opportunity. Allowing Google to take control of the OS updates would allow these brands to make that unique experience be a new revenue channel. I personally enjoy many of the aspects of HTC’s Sense UI and would not mind paying an extra fee to have it on my phone. What I don’t want is to wait 5 months to have ICS and, as a user, this is frustrating.
3. Empowering the Developers: If Google were to take control of the Android OS this would help the developer community. Many have spoken and written about fragmentation, much better than I can, but I have witnessed first hand how frustrating it can be to try to develop an application that will work, with the same behavior, across all Android versions. A mobile system like Android can’t survive without developers and Google should take this into consideration not only because it is the right thing to do but because the company’s business model also depends on it.
4. Democratization of the user base: At the moment we have different social classes in the Android community: those who root, those that can afford the latest models, those that have no idea how to root and can’t afford the latest models every 8-9 months. I often hear the argument that anyone can root their device, if they want to, but that is not true. Rooting is still a technical process that might end in a useless device and, this alone, scares many users. When I say “many” I am talking about the vast majority of Android users out there. If Google were to take control of the OS (see 1) the majority of users would have access to the latest Android version and this would also translate into a more solid and strong community. This might seem like more of a philosophical advantage but, in my opinion, it’s a very important one because the Android community plays an important role in the success of the OS.
Imagine this scenario: Google makes available a new Android flavor. In a matter of days all devices bought in the last 18 months get the update. OEMs’ Facebook and Google+ pages are not swamped with requests for immediate updates to all of their devices (“Come on! When am I going to get ICS on my Desire HD?!”). OEMs will be able to gather feedback from users and deliver added value. Developers will be able to take full advantage of the new OS features.
Doesn’t this make more sense? Let me know what you think in the comments.