I also published this over at Medium; so if you read it already, just pardon the rerun
The other day when taking a look thru my Google+ feed, I noticed a post from GigaOm’s Kevin Tofel mentioning that he was looking at selling a few devices to pick up the HTC One Google Edition. This device is a bit special in terms of how Google has traditionally done devices with their stamp on them. Both the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4 have been released to much fanfare as platform and halo mobile devices for Android. The release of a Google Edition of these device, rather than another Nexus (Google-sanctioned reference design and Android platform halo product) might speak to Google addressing two key issues with Android in the marketplace. I’ll start with what I said in that Google+ thread and let things build from there:
Google Edition matters… can see that for fans/analysts. But, what would that mean in the greater scheme of things? Is Google saying their UI is better than what carriers/OEMs want to say is suitable. Or, is Google positioning themselves as having a pure experience that fans pay for – reduction of customization as the halo UX? If they are doing that, then the premium Google can charge users can keep Google’s Android intentions, while not cutting the efforts of carriers/OEMs who want to emphasize their brand. For Google, reduction + directness (not simplicity) = best value for Android.
Reduction in customization as a means to denote a more premium offering. Its a slick little play on things – especially for Android and most of what we get about computing. But, this seems to be the play that Google wants to take in order to squeeze out more value per use for Android.
Since when does making something pure make its value higher (in the minds of true believers)? Well, it does with cars (with some models, racing versions are stripped of all comforts, but cost more). And that also seems to be the case with some bicycles (lighter weight, better/fewer components). That’s the case with water (bottled water is so much purer and expensive than the tap stuff, right?). And there are probably a few more products in which this demonstrates as true.
Google has long wanted for their vision of Android to be the primary driver of things for the platform. Not just the inclusion of services that feed Google’s ad engine, but the engine itself looking like something that’s akin to some of Google’s core characteristics (great piece about this at Mobile Opportunity the other week). A mobile platform that moves at the speed of those who engineer the web – not telecoms, not even consumers. With these Google Edition devices, one can make the argument that Google is happy enough with where Android is to now push the needed on top of what manufacturers do – not just a situation of being the keystone on which those manufacturers stand.
Having said that, its almost like a Android squeeze. All that’s missing is Android as your service provider to put the final legs on this squeeze.
- More flexible than iOS
- Faster to implement by carriers than Symbian
- Eas(ier) for developers to develop web services that integrate into it
- Ease of utilizing into embedded devices
- Very low cost to implement for device manufacturers
- Optional Google experience apps/services
All of that means that Android has no value to the device owner because all of the value points are being brought to the table by the carrier and hardware vendor. For Google, this means their value as a mobile enabler and a platform that can grow value is diminished. For Google to change that means they need to reset the value proposition of Android. They’ve chosen to do that by making a “purer” Android on top of the halo devices just released.
The most direct way to speak that Android is valuable is to ape the branding on top of the most popular brands using your platform, and sell the experience you’ve been saying is the most important (i.e., the one you can push forward). If the opinion leaders respond, and the bottom line of the effort is met, then this method will continue. If not, there’s still the Nexus program and the Motorola-acquired device expertise.
Thinking about it like that, Google put the value of Android to be a valuable platform in the hands of its loudest, wealthiest, and probably influential fans. Folks that care about features, speed, whether something gets updated quickly, Good luck Google on that one.
For Google, this does make a lot of sense. Whether it will pan out or not is more or less another experiment for them. At worst, folks might not be happy in a year when the updates stop. At best, it will change the depth of value for Android as a platform that doesn’t just get folks into the mobile-data door at any cost level, but at a higher level, offers an unparalleled mobile experience that others would have to own the platform in order to match.