Google is planning to exert more control over its Android operating system with a program, Android Silver, that will require its manufacturing partners to abide by stringent guidelines. The program was initially reported by Android Police and has since been corroborated by the Information, which reports that the program will replace Google’s existing Nexus program.
The news follows other efforts to give Google more control over its nigh-ubiquitous mobile platform. The company is expected to require that manufacturers include a “Powered by Android” message on their smartphones’ boot screens. It has also been releasing more apps and services that manufacturers can’t replace in their efforts to differentiate their phones.
Android Silver will reportedly require that manufacturers allow consumers to delete unwanted applications like NFL Mobile and VZ Navigator from their smartphones. (This isn’t an option on many existing Android devices.) The devices will also have to come with some Google apps pre-installed and immediately available in a dedicated folder, according to the Information.
The program places Android in stark contrast with Windows Phone, the also-ran operating system on which Microsoft just spent $7.2 billion in a last-ditch effort to save. Microsoft’s problem with Windows Phone is that too few manufacturers want to use it; Google’s problem with Android is that far too many companies want to remove Google from its own platform.
Back when it was trying to prove that it could build its own platform, Google was content with allowing manufacturers to make Android their own. Now that Android is the most popular operating system in the world, it seems that it is less willing to cede so much control to other companies and wishes to use the platform to serve its own needs instead of another company’s.
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TechCrunch notes that Android Silver was probably developed in direct response to Samsung:
At least initially, the program will likely target OEMs who are underrepresented in the current Android spread, like current Nexus participant LG, and Motorola is also said to be a likely early partner. Others like Samsung, HTC and Sony, which have invested heavily in their own custom Android skins, are thought to be less likely to participate.
In fact, part of the motivation behind Google’s Silver program is said to be winning it back more control of Android from Samsung in particular. Reports have long suggested their could be some unease at Google about the amount of influence Samsung has over Android given its dominant global market share.
The Information offers some more, erm, information on the program:
The expensive effort involves dumping the four-year-old Google Nexus phone brand in favor of a new program called Silver, under which manufacturers and wireless carriers will effectively be paid to produce and sell high-end devices that closely adhere to Google specifications, according to four people briefed on the project. The requirements sharply limit the number of non-Google apps that can be pre-installed on devices, or mandate that phone owners be able to uninstall them.
The Verge wonders what will happen to the mid-range products that defined the Nexus line:
Google’s appetite to reassert itself among premium smartphones has been evident in the first flagship Android phones released this year. Both the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S5 feature the words “Powered by Android” in their bootup animations, while in January Google was reported to have held talks with Samsung about reining in the Korean company’s customizations.
Now the Mountain View company is mooted to be spending as much as $1 billion to get phone makers to jump aboard its new initiative. Android Silver will reportedly target the United States and other developed markets first, with in-store Android kiosks designed by Google showcasing its software. The one missing piece from this puzzle is what Google will do with the mid-range market that the Nexus program is expected to vacate. Android Silver is gunning for the high end, so who will step up to fill the void left in the middle?
‘What’s the one company that’s really trying to fork Android, that’s really trying to build its own version, changing the browser, and trying to build better technology? Amazon,’ Suster said during our PandoMonthly event on Wednesday. ‘I think the great wars of the future, over the Internet, are going to be Google, Apple, Amazon, and Samsung. They’re all building mobile devices, they’re all building mobile ecosystems, and they’re all going to have to address video. That’s the future.’
I then wrote about how Android’s freedom might actually help Google reclaim some control over it:
Google’s decision to allow manufacturers to repurpose and redesign Android could ultimately become the reason Google is able to show consumers what Android looks and feels like without layer upon layer of manufacturer-produced software on top. Facebook Home practically dared Google to take control of Android and now, just a few weeks later, it seems that that’s exactly what Google is doing. Home is emblematic of just how difficult it has been for Google to present pure Android — now it seems that emulating the software through an expansion to the Nexus program might just help Google retake the operating system.