That Android has been a success is the understatement of the decade. Following a slow start with the release of Android 1.0 in September 2008 and subsequently the first Android powered Smartphone - the HTC Dream - in October 2008, Android-based Smartphones began to gain momentum in early 2010. By Q4 2010 Android had dethroned its rivals to become the best selling Smartphone platform. Given the lack of viable alternatives - Apple's iOS and the BlackBerry OS are closed/proprietary solutions, Microsoft was in the process of reinventing its mobile solution, webOS had been snatched up by HP and Symbian was becoming increasingly irrelevant - Smartphone manufacturers, led by Motorola, Samsung, HTC and LG, were quick to support Android.
However, even with this unprecedented success, chink's in Android's armor are beginning to emerge. Consider the following:
1. Android fragmentation. Rivals have long touted this as Android's Achilles Heel. Since the release of Android 1.0 in 2008 seven new releases or upgrades have been introduced (with Honeycomb in February 2011 the most recent). Although this is not fragmentation in the traditional Linux sense where multiple products can have the same model number yet be incompatible, hardware vendors, their carrier partners and developers are having a hard time keeping up. Clearly the majority of the activity today is for more current platforms - according to Android 90% of devices accessing the Android Market are running Android 2.1 or 2.2. As a result developer support for some of the older platforms such as 1.5 and 1.6 is waning and it is not uncommon to find applications that do NOT run seamlessly from platform to platform. Some of this is clearly a result of bad implementation of Android by manufacturers - however, without a tough Android certification process this is perhaps inevitable. Google is addressing some of this with a more portable implementation of the Fragments API. The Fragment API makes it easier for developers to build applications that work across multiple form factors. An issue with this API previously (which also limited its adoption among developers) was that it was NOT backwards compatible with earlier versions of Android. This upgrade certainly becomes more significant with the introduction of Honeycomb - the tablet optimized version of Android.
2. Support void. The issue of support and who is responsible for it was bound to eventually emerge. The responsibility for much of the support falls on the shoulders of the carriers and manufacturers. This would be OK if these organizations had the infrastructure and/or interest in providing the support. Carriers have shown little desire to support firmware upgrades. Their business model (at least in the US) is based on locking customers into contracts and luring them with 'partial' upgrades before the contract expires. Carriers - or device manufacturers for that matter - have never been in the business of supporting their customers on this level. Clearly this spells an opportunity. However, no-one - least of all Google or the OHA - appears to be stepping up to the plate.
3. Differentiation. This is clearly more of an issue for manufacturers. However, with several vendors supporting the same platform, the rush to introduce new models - and one-up the competition - is resulting in a flood of new products (further impacting platform fragmentation) and often resulting products being released too early.
Taken together these issues are perhaps driving device vendors to reconsider their platform strategies (and we did not even begin to address some of the legal issues facing Google regarding its interpretation of open source software). Clearly - and for good reason - the level of commitment towards Android development among device vendors continues to grow. However, at the same time, vendors are hedging and - as the rumors surrounding Motorola Mobility developing a Web-Based OS suggest - do not want to become too entrenched with Android. That said, even the best designedproprietary OS will have a hard time competing against Android. This is about more than the OS - it is about the freedom, the eco-system and the overall developer community committed to this platform (not to mention the royalty free OS). Rather than fight Android head on with yet another OS, vendors have an opportunity for differentiation around the existing gaps in services.
So what does this mean for the enterprise? Android's share gains in the overall Smartphone market have yet to be mimicked in the enterprise market. This is to be expected as enterprises come to grips with support requirements, device management options and security solutions for this platform. However, as enterprises continue to extend more back-end applications to Smartphones - and tablets - the issues associated with life-cycle support and cross-device/cross-platform compatibility will only become more acute. Regardless of whether the Android device enters the enterprise through a indirect (individual liable) or direct (corporate liable) channel, device vendors need to be in position to address this void to develop a sustainable, scalable and successful Android enterprise strategy.