Apple’s iPhone may have changed the game in the smartphone space, but adoption of Google’s Android platform is growing at a ridiculous pace. There are good reasons for that: It’s available for handset makers to license for free. It’s also open source, which means that device makers can customize it to meet their needs.
But that customization aspect could backfire on Google. Because clearly Google isn’t making a dime by licensing the software. Instead, Google is hoping to get Google services like Gmail, Google Calendar, and first and foremost, Google search into the hands of as many users as possible. When you buy a device running Google Android, you’re kind of locking yourself into the Google software ecosystem — unless handset makers and wireless providers start to replace Google software with alternatives. And that’s exactly what’s starting to happen.
AT&T, for instance, has worked out a deal with Yahoo so that the Motorola Blur replaces all of Google’s search functions with Yahoo and AT&T software. Instead of Google Maps, you get AT&T Maps. Instead of the Google Android music player, you get AT&T Music. And the phone won’t run apps that aren’t available through the Android Market, despite the fact that most Android phones simply let you check a box to install non-Market apps.
Today Yahoo and Samsung announced a strategic partnership that will bring Yahoo! services to Samsung phones running Android or Bada OS. It’s not clear which Google services will be absent from these devices, but it looks like we can expect to see Samsung phones preloaded with Yahoo Mail, Messenger, Calendar, Weather, and other apps.
While all of these tweaks are certainly going to continue to help Android gain acceptance as a mainstream smartphone operating system, I have to wonder if they’re helping Google achieve its goals with the platform.