Google is revising the way it rolls out new Android versions and devices, according to a new report. The move is intended to give the tech giant greater control over features and apps, and to reduce the influence of wireless carriers.
According to a story in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, Google will now give new versions of Android to as many as five manufacturers at a time, and devices using the new version will be sold directly to consumers. Previously, Google's practice was to produce "lead devices" for a new version with a single manufacturer and then roll out to other makers, with devices being sold through carriers or retail stores.
Under the new scheme -- which has not yet been confirmed by Google -- Google would sell the Nexus-brand products from the manufacturers through its Web site and possibly through some retailers. Google has tried direct sales to consumers on a limited basis previously, with limited success.
The amount of involvement that wireless carriers would have in marketing and selling this wave of products is not yet clear. One might assume that phones or tablets sold directly to consumers by Google would not be subsidized by carriers, so, unless Google is ready to pick up that slack, the prices are expected to be considerably higher than what buyers have come to expect.
It would be expected the phones would be sold unlocked, so that they would work on a variety of networks. Unless a contract is packaged with the sale -- something that would seem to counter Google's strategy -- the buyer then would have to find a carrier. But, potentially, a device buyer could purchase a prepaid wireless plan, making the total ownership cost less than currently and not obligating the buyer to a contract.
The new Google strategy, according to the Journal, will begin with the coming Android 5.0, also known as Jelly Bean, and the first batch of devices are expected to be ready for sale by Thanksgiving.
Boosting Android Tablets
The plan accomplishes several goals. It may mitigate concerns among makers that Google will play favorites with Motorola Mobility, which Google is in the process of buying. In the new model, any preference Google shows Motorola would not necessarily rule out providing the same attention to other companies.
It could help to lessen the fragmentation of Android, in that Google may be able to retain more control over devices' user interface, features, and apps for a given version. The plan would also limit the ability of carriers to block apps, such as Google's, on the devices.
It could also put some energy into the sale of Android tablets. Apple's iPad is still the overwhelming leader in that category. Amazon's Kindle Fire heated up Android-based sales for a while, but since has faded.
Later this year, touchscreen-oriented Windows 8 will be launched, and it is expected to result in a wave of tablets and convertible laptops using that platform. All of this means that, even though Android is now the top operating system for smartphones, Google has to do something to boost its position in tablets.
We asked Al Hilwa, program director for Application Development at IDC, how this strategy could affect Android. He said that, to the extent "Google has a hand in shaping devices that end up in users' hands, this will improve the quality" of user experience and could help to reduce the platform's fragmentation.
Posted: 2012-05-16 @ 4:45pm PT
"and the first batch of devices are expected to be ready for sale by Thanksgiving." and for those who live in the rest of the world, the date is 22/11/2012 [22 Nov 2012]. sigh..