The smartphone war has largely come down to a two-horse race: Apple and Google are the world's top smartphone sellers thanks to their superior and intuitive user interfaces, while Microsoft's Windows Phones and RIM's BlackBerry brand struggle to market their unique alternative designs. But Google, realizing how Apple has largely dominated the market with a single smartphone -- the iPhone -- has decided to shift its mobile strategy for Android in a big way.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Google looks to sell a portfolio of open-source Android devices directly to consumers (via Google Play's Device Store), but instead of simply choosing a single manufacturer to build one device at a time -- for example, Google only taps Samsung to build its Nexus smartphones -- Google will reportedly work with up to five different manufacturers at once to offer a wide variety of stock devices, including both smartphones and tablets.
Google's plan solves many of Android's biggest issues, including the major lack of consistency across the platform. Until this point, Google used to work with one manufacturer at a time on a product, and subsequently release the software to other smartphone makers selling third-party devices. By working with many manufacturers at once, Google can exert more control over the features and apps for each individual hardware design, and by selling directly, Google gets to also control the services that market and sell the devices themselves.
The move is a big power play from Google in its efforts to surpass Apple, and it could absolutely work, mainly because it's worked before.
Before Google came around, Microsoft was the only major technology company to find mainstream success with an open source platform. Windows, which was first introduced in 1985, provided a stark contrast to Apple, which believed in a closed system platform where Steve Jobs and his team could design and control every facet of the user experience to perfection. Bill Gates, on the other hand, was less temperamental, but a better analyst and pragmatist: He understood the business implications of licensing Microsoft's operating system and software to a variety of manufacturers.
(What's funny is that Android and Windows were both created in similar ways: Google's Android operating system was birthed from Apple's iPhone, while Microsoft's Windows operating system would not exist if Apple didn't invite Bill Gates to develop software for the new graphical interface on the original Macintosh. Both Google and Microsoft continue to enjoy great success at Apple's expense.)
Even though Jobs and Gates had two competing viewpoints, both men found plenty of success with their different formulas. Jobs found his success upon his return to Apple in 1995, 10 years after he was ousted, but in the time he was gone, Gates' Windows 95 had become the most successful operating system of all-time. That was because Microsoft was working with several computer makers, from IBM to Dell to Hewlett-Packard, which sold millions of units but all ran on the same operating system: Windows.
Google hopes to follow in Microsoft's footsteps with its own open-source operating system, but by giving several manufacturers like Samsung, LG and Nokia a chance to build a similar device on a singular operating system, Apple closed approach will once again get a run for its money by the open approach.
If Google hopes to truly succeed, however, it will need to solve several issues that have long-plagued Android. First, it must cut out all upgrade delays. If a new operating system is available for one device, it needs to be available for all devices; anything other than that should be considered a failure. Changes to the smartphone's OS keeps the device up-to-date and relevant, but the fact that some users get a taste of Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) before others is simply ridiculous, unfair, and needs to end.
Google will also reportedly expand its product line to tablets, as Apple's iPad has dominated the market, even though new tablets from Amazon (Kindle Fire) and Barnes & Noble (Nook Tablet) have tried to threaten the Cupertino-based company with cheaper (albeit smaller) offerings. Nothing else is known about Google's secretive tablet, other than it will be given the Nexus moniker, and it will likely run on Ice Cream Sandwich, Android's latest mobile operating system.
In the next six months we plan to market a tablet of the highest quality, said Google chairman Eric Schmidt, speaking to an Italian newspaper on Dec. 20.
But besides this new coordination effort for Android, the best thing Google can do to power its sales past Apple is to continue selling unlocked Nexus devices -- that is, smartphones with no contracts that can work on any wireless network with a SIM card -- and expand that portfolio to other Android-running phones. Even though an unlocked Galaxy Nexus smartphone would set you back $399, that price tag is the same price you pay for the cheapest iPhone from Apple, and that price doesn't include the two-year carrier contract.
Google is reportedly on track to roll in more than $2.5 billion in mobile revenue this year alone, which would be about 5 percent of the company's total revenue. If Google can successfully sell directly to consumers while lowering the bar for manufacturers to make quality Android devices, Google will be able to take a much bigger bite out of Apple.