Info-tech

Google Android: Will Ice Cream Sandwich take a bite off Apple?

Adarsh Gopalakrishnan | Updated on March 12, 2018

CHENNAI : 08/09/2011 : Motorola Xoom, an Android Honeycomb tablet. Photo : R_Ravindran.   -  THE HINDU

Android Ice Cream Sandwich   -  BUSINESS LINE

CHENNAI, 07/05/2011: Apple iPad2 Tablet. Photo: S_S_Kumar   -  THE HINDU

A look at why Google needs to get the upcoming platform right.

Henry Ford once said that his customers could have their Ford Model T's in any colour they wanted as long as it was black. Crimping the colour option enabled Ford, the pioneer of mass manufacturing and assembly lines, to crank out then unheard of automobile volumes to cater to the masses.

Apple wears the Henry Ford crown a lot better than most modern day automobile manufacturers do. Customers are free to choose any colour for their iPad or iPhone as long as its black or white. The touch-screen device of their choice sports a screen size of either 9.7 inches or 3.5 inches and one of two processors with similar architecture. The operating system they get to interact with is the iOS, which is designed to run on the company's hardware specs. Basically, it's a highly tailored marriage of hardware and software, a homogeneous product line with few options for consumers - not that many seem to be complaining. Having sold over 120 million iPhones and 30 million iPads, Apple has been laughing all the way to the proverbial bank. Apart from the moolah, the humongous user base has also given Apple the traction needed to build a huge arsenal of applications for consumers to get addicted to.

The way it works

Apple profits from its hardware and subsequent App Store sales in three ways. First, they earn a massive 30 per cent cut on all products sold through the App Store. This is much to chagrin of sellers like Amazon and the publishing and magazine industry for whom 30 per cent is a sizeable chunk of change. This brings us to the second advantage. Apple, through observing consumer behaviour on the App Store and the iBook store, learns your preferences and spending patterns. This lets them customise and target you with ads or products they think, rather know, you might be interested in. Till date, they've refused to share this knowledge.

The third and most crucial point - as the number of people logging in to the App store increases, more developers are attracted to the idea of hawking their stuff on that platform. Apple makes it easy for developers to create software for the iOS platform - after all, there are only two hardware specs to consider while customising an app. Contrast this with Google's approach to its mobile operating system, Android. The platform is currently the only worthy opponent to Apple's juggernaut. However, Google's approach is in stark contrast to Apple.

Google still ‘searching'

Google's three year old operating system has met with tremendous amount of success. Google licenses its OS to several hardware manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC, Motorola and several Japanese, Chinese and small, regional manufacturers, for free. The freedom of letting people choose from an array of smartphones - offered by different OEMs and running on different version of the Android platform - has let the Android OS ecosystem dominate 56 per cent of smartphones in the US market.

So, how does Google capitalise on this success? Google's bread and butter comes from the advertisement revenue generated from its search engine. By monitoring key-words and patterns through Google Search, the company gets better at targeted advertising. Google hopes that increased Android usage will translate into more Google searches which would then lead to higher advertising revenues. Android sales have, however, not translated into the kind of success that Apple has enjoyed with its App Store or iTunes.

Rather ironically, the trick that makes Android tick also makes it difficult for the company to tackle competition. The lavish customisation that Android offers – with cheap hardware and unchecked fragmentation - is the greatest obstacle in building a more cohesive user experience.

Developers have a much harder time developing content for Android with its various screen sizes, processors and oft derided user interface skins (a lambasted effort by manufacturers to distinguish their product), than they do with Apple iOS.

For example, what probably has been the most popular gaming app under the sun– Angry Birds – was earlier not optimised for the various devices running Android OS. So, Rovio, the makers of the app, were bound to release a less intensive app to run on lower-end Android smartphones. Google's attempt at the tablet-optimised 'Honeycomb' – running on the likes of Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab 750 - has also been received feebly due to its glitchy interface. Honeycomb has failed to generate enough enthusiasm among developers to design exclusively for the platform.

Having been witness to all these factors, it's easy to see why tech addicts are looking closely at Google's upcoming OS release ‘Ice Cream Sandwich'. The company is looking to bring together the successful elements of Android Gingerbread and Honeycomb into a common OS for tablets and smartphones, a la Apple's IOS.

With a much simpler mechanism to devise applications, Google hopes developers will flock to the platform. Ice Cream Sandwich's reception could potentially make or break Google's attempt at cracking the tablet market (a foray complicated by Amazon's Kindle Fire at whose core lies a modified version of Android).

Pressure time

Simply put, Google needs to make the tablet foray work while at the same time ensure that the momentum that Android manufacturers, such as Samsung and HTC enjoy, is not dissipated by the upcoming iPhone 5 (iOS5) release. It needs to do this while persuading the very same manufacturers that the Motorola acquisition will not make the rest second best in receiving the latest Android releases.

Building a critical user mass is crucial to building a competitive eco-system and bringing news, media and entertainment organisations to offer a broader range of content and media on the platform. Until this happens, Google and its Android are likely to remain one-trick ponies. Thank God for the fact that this pony kicks like a mule!

adarsh@thehindu.co.in

Published on October 02, 2011

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