Google aims for purity with Android Silver

Is the Android Silver initiative mostly a rebranding effort for existing Nexus smartphones, or is it something much more?

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6. Really, how serious an issue is Android fragmentation for Google?

Here's one answer: Spencer and ABI have seen a growing financial impact from Android fragmentation on Google, not just on Android customers and manufacturers.

ABI reported in January that 32% of the 221.5 million Android phones shipped in the fourth quarter of 2013 used forked versions from Android Open Source Project (AOSP) manufacturers -- an increase from 20% a year earlier.

The AOSP phones made by vendors such as Xiaomi, Coolpad, Giomee and others don't offer Google services to customers, which cuts into Google's ability to monetize the Android ecosystem, according to Spencer.

Ultimately, Google has a financial incentive in all of this and Android Silver is "certainly an attempt to control the OS and reduce fragmentation," Spencer said.

7. Aren't high-end phones costing more than $200 with a carriers subsidy on the wane?

It's true that analysts feel the smartphone market is saturated, especially at the high-end, but Google must feel there's still potential to reach early adopters with quality devices that can compete against the iPhone.

That's why a pure Android phone in the Android Silver category matters. Because Google works from an advertising model, it needs to offer up more ads from inside its services to consumers who can and want to buy things.

"First and foremost, Google wants to track everything consumers do, including what they like, dislike, where they are, where they are going and who they are with. This maximizes the advertising opportunity," said analyst Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

"To get this rich, contextual information, Google needs consumers to use their branded services like Search, Maps, Play, Contacts, Calendar, Chrome, Gmail and more," Moorhead added. "Android Silver is an attempt to get more high-end phones to lead with Google services and provide an alternative to Samsung. Google is concerned that Samsung has such a lead at the high end Android market that Google needs a more level playing field or it will lose control."

Still, Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC, said Android Silver will not be an easy approach for device makers who compete against each other.

"For the last 18 months, we've been hearing how the high-end is saturated," he said.

"You already have the LG G series, Samsung's Galaxy S series, the Moto X and the HTC One, so now Google's asking manufacturers to put together yet another high-end handset labeled Android Silver? And when it is done, is that Google's handset or is it the OEM's? And how does an OEM position its Silver against the other guy's Silver?"

Even if Lenovo brought Android Silver into the U.S., how would it face off against the Moto X? Llamas asked. "The Moto X is definitely no slouch," he said.

8. Obviously, analysts disagree on how much control Google is trying to wrest from device makers or carriers with Android Silver. What gives?

Part of the problem is that Android Silver isn't yet an official, confirmed program, so the details aren't clear, meaning analysts will keep offering differing sentiments.

Sometimes big companies release concepts through anonymous sources to act as a trial balloon in public to induce feedback from various fronts and constituencies.

It seems like Google will move ahead with Android Silver, although it's likely another round of Nexus devices will surface before that happens.

While most analysts see Android Silver as a reaction to growing Android fragmentation and especially to Samsung, Narcotta said he sees a far more ambitious goal.

"I definitely think Android Silver is about Google becoming very focused on making sure that Android's appeal and profile is raised among all consumers, especially with wearables, Chromebooks and other Android-powered devices beginning to gain traction," Narcotta explained.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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