Apple controls the entire user experience from hardware to the operating system that runs on its smartphones and tablets. Microsoft controls the operating system that OEMs put on their hardware. With Android, however, the story is a bit different. Google (and others) work on the core operating system, but OEMs are free to modify the experience to suit their branding requirements and make hardware that is more varied than any other mobile platform today. If that sounds like an invitation for chaos, you might be right!
To try and rein things in, Google has three programs to help guide OEMs to keep Android looking and feeling somewhat similar between platforms, OEMs, carriers, and hardware.
Starting with the Nexus One, Google has partnered with select manufacturers to produce the “reference platform” against which other solutions are measured.
Through the Nexus program, Google has pushed prices down, driven specifications up, and guided the direction of smartphones powered by the Android operating system.
Google also pushed the concept of open and unlocked hardware, capable of being used on virtually any carrier – something OEMs weren’t willing to do on their own.
An oft-overlooked benefit of the Nexus program are the close relationships that are fostered between Google and top-tier OEMs. These relationships have resulted in faster updates, fewer bugs, and an all-around better experience all around.
There are billions of us on this blue marble we call Earth. A relatively few of us have access to smartphones and other mobile technology. The vast majority live well below the mark that everyone reading this article would consider “comfortable”. Part of the explanation for this is access to information.
Here I sit at a desktop computer with cable Internet access and speeds of 50Mbps/15Mbps on a computer with 8 cores of processing power, a flat screen monitor, wireless keyboard and mouse, music streaming directly to my ears, a news feed scrolling by, and updates from my social networks coming in as they’re posted. Most of the world’s population doesn’t have these luxuries.
That’s where smartphones come in to play. Cellular networks are much easier to set up than wired networks, and can reach a lot further – especially in rural communities where large buildings don’t block the signal. They’re more rapidly deployed, and they are more resilient to natural disasters.
Smartphones are still expensive, relatively speaking. That’s where Android Silver fits in. By providing a low-cost reference platform for hardware, and taking on all the software maintenance and updates, Google is positioning itself to be a key player in deploying information to the masses.
Google Play edition
Lastly, Google has offered to sell unlocked versions of some of the most popular smartphones through its Play Store. These phones shed the proprietary “skins” that OEMs insist on loading on their phones and tablets. HTC, Asus, LG, Samsung, and others all want to “brand” the software they load on their devices. They include suites of applications that are redundant in the bigger picture.
Google Play editions offers consumers the option to purchase a name brand phone, free from contracts, with updates provided from Google rather than an OEM and carrier, and with the pure Android user experience.
Recently, however, we’ve seen a drastic reduction in the number of devices listed in the Google Play edition section of the Play Store. As of this writing, only one Google Play edition device remains: the HTC One M8.
Google Play edition devices combine the benefits of Android Silver and Google Nexus devices. Were I Google, I’d insist that every phone be offered in a Google Play edition. At the very least, Google Play edition devices are a benefit to the entire community and the Google Play edition program is a project worth continuing!