Platform headaches. Managing a major software operating system and development platform is really hard. It comes with a universe of challenging developer-relations issues, and constant vigilance on the security front.
The headaches are worth it for companies like Apple, who reap billions in profit each quarter from the platform. But are they worth it for Google, which gives the software away for free?
Apple relationship. Android has cost Google its single most valuable partner: Apple. The late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs was livid over Android and promised to spend whatever it took to destroy it, his famous “thermonuclear” war.
I believe, and recent events support the idea, that Apple’s “thermonuclear” war involves gradually replacing Google services on iOS devices with competing alternatives.
Apple has already replaced, for example, Latitude with Find My Friends, and has started to replace Google Maps. Its Siri uses, but hides and de-emphasizes, Google Search, giving results without the advertising. And I believe Google Search will be completely replaced on iOS devices in the future.
Amazon embarrassment. The Amazon Kindle Fire has taken more than half -- 54 percent -- of the Android tablet market. There’s just one problem: Amazon doesn’t help Google in any way. In fact, Amazon actively uses Google’s own platform to compete directly with Google on advertising, content downloads, and even the harvesting of user personal information via its proprietary Silk browser.
That means more than half of all Android tablet installations are actively taking business away from Google, rather than adding to it.
Last month Google CEO Larry Page said during the Oracle lawsuit that while Android is “important,” it’s not “critical” to Google.
After Page left the stand, Android founder and chief Andy Rubin was asked by Oracle’s attorney if he expected Android to “contribute substantially” to Google’s ad revenues, and Rubin said he believed the answer is no.
The first year of Page’s leadership as CEO has been characterized by a dramatic reduction in acquisitions, and a widespread program of closing non-critical products and services.
Another uncomfortable fact emerged in the Oracle lawsuit: Android was a money-losing business for Google in every quarter of 2010. We don’t know how well it did last year, or for the first quarter of this year. But even if Android has been making money for Google, it’s probably not much.
Should Google get rid of Android?
So far, Android has cost Google enormous time and money, burned countless bridges in the industry, and alienated both handset makers and rival mobile platform companies.
The whole purpose of Android is to promote Google Search and other services. But so far, it’s been a mixed bag, threatening the termination of those services on other platforms, and even on some Android installations.
Would Google sell more ads and downloadable services if they sold off Android? They would give up control, but would probably still make advertising and content revenue from most Android handsets, and possibly on other platforms as well, including iOS. They could save themselves from constant patent battles, and ditch the Motorola albatross.
Android isn’t going away. And Google might support it indefinitely. But is it a good idea?
Maybe Android just isn’t worth the trouble.