android inside

Android has become the would-be patron saint of down-and-out manufacturers able to blame their misfortune on one operating system or another. Declining marketshare, missed forecasts, and disappointing sales can all be magicked away by ditching Windows Phone or the BlackBerry operating system. Or that’s what we’re meant to think, anyway.

The switch to Android is often prescribed by technology pundits who would like to use a certain smartphone but are unwilling to sacrifice the user interface, app marketplace, or other features available to Android devices. (Pleas for a Nokia-built Android smartphone have grown particularly loud since the company moved from Symbian to Windows Phone.)

That doesn’t mean that Android devices made by manufacturers like Nokia or BlackBerry exist only in the imaginations of people who smack keyboards for a living, however.

BlackBerry was yesterday revealed to have considered making products with an “enterprise-friendly version of Android” before ultimately deciding to stay the course with its BlackBerry 10 operating system. The company announced on Monday that it has formed a special committee meant to determine how it might form joint ventures, create strategic partnerships, or find a potential buyer after years of declining marketshare and watching its share price tumble.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop told the Guardian in July that it, too, had considered making an Android smartphone when it switched from Symbian, which Elop identified as a “burning platform” when he became Nokia’s chief executive in 2011. The trouble, Elop said, was “the very high risk that one hardware manufacturer could come to dominate Android.”

And that’s exactly what happened when Samsung established itself as the Android smartphone kingmaker.

Samsung is often considered to be the only manufacturer to be making an appreciable amount of money from Android, with Bloomberg Businessweek reporting in May that the company makes 95 percent of Android smartphone profits. IDC reported last week that Samsung products account for nearly 40 percent of all global Android device shipments. The smartphone market has, as I wrote last Wednesday, shifted from Android versus iOS to Samsung versus Apple.

No-one knows that better than HTC, which has watched its marketshare and valuation tumble over the last year as high-level executives leave the company. HTC was the first company to ship an Android smartphone and the first to begin selling devices with LTE support and the humongous displays that have become standard to the industry. Its flagship products, the HTC One and HTC First, were marred by inventory problems and, in the First’s case, discontinued shortly after launch. Android can’t fix that.

That isn’t to say that other companies are unable to operate in the Android market. LG, Huawei, ZTE, and Lenovo have all gained marketshare over the last year, showing that companies can grow alongside the world’s most popular operating system. Despite those gains, however, those four manufacturers combined don’t represent as large a slice of the Android market as Samsung. 

It’s unlikely that Nokia or BlackBerry would fare much better — there’s a reason why the companies both decided against building Android-based smartphones in the first place. (Though BlackBerry did try to use Android’s popularity to its advantage by emulating the operating system in BlackBerry 10.)

There’s no denying Android’s ability to help companies develop a variety of products, from video game consoles and drones to refrigerators and tablets. But that doesn’t make it the patron saint of embattled manufacturers. If anything it represents a false idol that companies and pundits can identify as a savior even though it currently bestows most of its blessings on the wayward Samsung.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]