Is Google’s dominance over Android starting to push everyone away?

BY Rita El Khoury

Published 19 Feb 2014


Google’s control over Android is often cited, criticized yet barely ever challenged. For a long time, every major player in the mobile industry except Nokia and Apple was flocking toward Google and willing to play along with its draconian rules — the benefits of aligning with the company far outweighed the negatives then. Recent rumors and announcements are, however, starting to paint a new picture.

The quasi-certain Nokia X won’t be a Google CTS-certified Android device

The Nokia X has been rumored for many months now and is all but confirmed for next week’s MWC. The company’s first foray into the Android world will likely be a midrange device, based on the AOSP source code and filled with Microsoft’s services. Skype, OneDrive, Outlook, Xbox Music and Xbos Live already exist as separate Android apps, so having them installed on an Android phone will neither be an issue nor a novelty.

The difference, however, for us who perceive Android as synonymous with Google, will be the lack of the company’s services. You won’t see Gmail, Google Maps or Play Music on that Nokia X. You won’t even have access to the million apps on the Play Store.

Why is Nokia (and Microsoft) willing to go that route? Because it can, obviously — no one is stopping it from taking the AOSP code and fitting it to its needs. And also because Microsoft can bank on the popularity of the Asha brand name — that it has the exclusive right to use for the next 10 years — in developing countries to sell very affordable Nokia Android smartphones. By going for AOSP and dismissing Google, it will have a cheap way of getting one leg in the door with most consumers and tying them into the Microsoft ecosystem of services before Google gets to them.

If you can’t fight them from the outside, send in a Trojan horse.

Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy Gear 2 will allegedly run Tizen instead of Android

The latest rumors have Samsung following Nokia’s footsteps, albeit in a more extreme yet less significant — at this point — way. According to USA Today, Samsung’s upcoming Gear 2 smartwatch will run Tizen instead of Android. Chances are that, from the consumer point-of-view, it won’t make any difference. The watch’s UI will be kept the same, and it will connect just as well with Samsung’s Android devices, allowing users to control them and get notifications from them.

It matters however because of the lengths Samsung is willing to go to in order to avoid Google. The Korean giant wants to be an entire OS away, and has been planning to push Tizen for several years now. It seems to have finally found a way to make the first chess move without putting too much at stake. This may be the smartest, or the dumbest, of moves, but if it proves to be true, it sure is a sign of shifting times and priorities.  

Yandex.kit brings an alternative service layer to Android

Yandex is not the first company to offer alternatives to Google’s services. It is, however, the first to offer a quasi-complete suite that can be easily implemented over AOSP by any device manufacturer. If you’re making Android devices and you don’t want to get the Google CTS accreditation, you can simply reach out to Yandex and grab their newly announced Yandex.kit with Shell UI (launcher), Store (with over 100,000 apps) and Browser. If you’re targeting the Russian market, you’ll also be able to grab Maps, Mail, and a few more apps.

One of the first companies to benefit from this package will be Huawei, a chinese manufacturer that has been playing Google’s certification game to get into international markets so far. Could it be a sign of more low-end manufacturers foregoing Google in favor of Yandex?

The narrative is changing

Although most of these rumors and announcements don’t amount to much on their own, they do start to paint a new picture when you put them together. There was a time when no one minded playing Google’s game to get a certification and be able to benefit from its services. Now, many are testing their luck with other approaches.

Even though we don’t have enough supporting evidence to say that any of these strategies will ever take off, their mere presence and the fact that we are discussing them here after many CEOs discussed them in their secret board meetings is proof that the Android landscape is changing. At the very least, it’s a sign that Android is becoming two opposing entities: one that is still very engrained with Google and another that is less and less synonymous with it.