Top 5 - Google's best moves with Android

Image: Wired
Google is a monster of a company. They have their fingers in so many pies it's amazing that all their services and products work as well as they do. While Search may be Google's primary business, the company is also known for one other very successful product - Android. Although Android is free, Google do benefit a lot from having 80% of the worlds smartphone-toting population own an Android device. That being said, being the owner of the most widely used mobile OS in the world has it's fair share of challenges too. It's well known that Android had a hard time growing up. Up until ICS, Android was still maturing into a state that many would consider "complete", as depicted in this drawing by Googler +Manu Cornet. In the comic strip, the mascot eating the ICS is the first to have a straight back, which is why after 3 years, we are still happily on Android 4.x. Other than the upgrade to ICS, Google have also made many other brilliant decisions with regards to Android. Five of them stand out in my opinion, and you can read about them below.

5. The Nexus programme - boosting OEM recognition
Google's Nexus line of devices doesn't have the market share as other OEM partners. Nor do they push the boundaries when it comes to specs or hardware design. But one thing that the Nexus brand does have the potential to do is boost the recognition of their makers. I'm specifically talking about LG. While HTC and Samsung were already well recognised when they made their Nexus smartphones, the decision to name LG as the maker of the Nexus 4 was met with head scratching and raised eyebrows. After all, why would the maker of the hideous LG Optimus Vu be given the opportunity to make the Nexus 4? But if you look at LG now, they were the only OEM other than Apple and Samsung to record an increase in US market share at the end of 2013, and their sales in Q4 2013 were up 54% from the same quarter in 2012. Now I don't have any proof to backup my claim, but I believe the Nexus 4 was the turning point which turned LG from just another Android OEM, into a major Android OEM.

4. Nexus pricing - driving market prices down
Some people are under the impression that Nexus devices are sold at almost half the price of OEM devices because Google want to use it as a competitive edge to outsell their OEM "rivals". This is simply not true. Android OEMs are not Google's competitors. They are Google's partners. The more devices running Android, the happier Google become. Which is why Nexus devices are not meant to compete with OEM devices. They are meant to act as a reference, in more ways than one. And one of those ways, is pricing. Google are trying to change the market by showing that flagship smartphones don't need to be as expensive as they are. Motorola are also trying to force a change, saying that the "days of $600 phones are limited". And even OnePlus managed to release a smartphone with high-end specs with a mid-range price tag. As Google aim for the next 1 billion users, it's clear that they think price will be a major factor. Which could also explain rumours of a sub-$100 Nexus smartphone.
High-end device, mid-range price. Fruit of the Nexus tree? Image: Android Central
3. Android 4.4 KitKat - Making Android accessible to everyone
Speaking of the next billion users, Google is clearly a forward-thinking company. They knew that mobile would be the next big thing in computing, so they purchased Android to secure the future of Search (from under the noses of Samsung no less). Now, looking to the future yet again, Google are aware that the high-end smartphone market is not where the the growth is happening, it's the low-end and mid-range market. Google needed to figure out a way to ensure that people buying cheap Android phones were not left behind and stuck with Gingerbread, which is an unfortunate reality if you look at the platform distribution numbers. GB is still the second highest version of Android in the market, behind Jelly Bean and ahead of Ice Cream Sandwich. So what did Google do? They made Android lighter. Project Svelte was designed to make the latest version of Android, KitKat, less demanding than previous versions, enabling it to be installed on smartphones with as little as 512MB of RAM, a common spec for low-end devices. With this accomplishment, Google has ensured that Android will be ready for the next billion users, regardless of the hardware they use. Hopefully we'll see more devices like the Moto G, a smartphone which provided proof that Project Svelte was indeed a success.

2. The purchase of Motorola - Showing what an Android OEM should be like
I know Google sold Motorola to Lenovo less than two years after owning it, but in that short period of time, Google managed to use Motorola as an example of what they want from their OEM partners. While everyone was busy participating in the spec wars, the Moto X shipped with "mid-range" specs, without significantly sacrificing performance. It didn't come with a skin like TouchWiz or Sense, but still managed to enhance Android in ways no other OEM has ever done before. Most importantly, Motorola were able to push the KitKat update to the Moto X in under three weeks, something other OEMs literally take months to accomplish. Motorola's spell under Google may have been brief, but it sure did make an impact. Which is why I think all OEMs could learn a lot from Motorola.
A short-lived, but hugely significant partnership. Image: Apple Insider
1. The Play Store - fixing the problem caused by OEM skins
The reason why it takes OEMs months to push out an Android update is because they need time to incorporate their skins into the newest version of Android. Google needed to fix this, and they did so in a truly brilliant way. By introducing Google Play Services, Google were able to push new features out to ALL Android devices, regardless of Android version. Android Device Manager, Google Play Games Services (cloud save, achievements etc), and the Android Malware Scanner are just some of the updates Google have pushed to all Android devices, without updating Android. In addition to this, Google also gives us new features via apps in the Play Store, which constantly receive updates every week! We've gotten Hangouts + SMS integration, a brand new Google Now Launcher, a brand new Google Camera, Google+ Photos with some great editing tools, and countless updates to others apps like Chrome, Maps, Keep, Gmail and Drive, all without updating Android. By updating core Google apps, and pushing new services via Google Play, slow OEM updates are not as damaging as they used to be. Google can now ensure all Android users receive the newest and best features, even if their respective OEMs drop the ball with Android updates. 

Unlike iOS and Windows Phone, Android is open sourced. What's good about it is that Google's partners are free to modify the platform, providing many different choices for consumers. The bad thing is, when Google want to push their own changes, that openness suddenly becomes a disadvantage. Google have been really smart over the years, finding ways to get around obstacles and getting the best of Android onto as many smartphones and tablets as possible. Getting to the top of the industry is easy, but staying on top is difficult. Google have shown that they intend to stay on top, and if they keep up their problem solving smarts, any obstacle put in front of them should be easily dealt with.

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