Android is a massive leap forward for the mobile industry

Google’s CEO, Larry Page, has just published a letter titled “2012 Update from the CEO“. It’s a state of the union-sort of thing, mostly filled with the usual stuff of how great Google supposedly is (we’ll decide that for ourselves, why thank you). There’s one bit in it, though, that caught my eye – something that puts Android’s supposed fragmentation issues in a rather different light.

As you all know, Google was well aware of what mobile would do to the industry, even before the iPhone was being developed. Google acquired Android in 2005, but a year earlier, Google was already talking to Andy Rubin about the whole thing. After detailing how good Android is (we’ll decide that for ourselves, why thank you), Page explains how it wasn’t always that easy.

“It wasn’t always that easy,” he recollects, “I remember first meeting Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, back in 2004. At the time, developing apps for mobile devices was incredibly painful. We had a closet full of over 100 phones, and we were building our software pretty much one device at a time. Andy believed that aligning standards around an open source operating system would drive innovation across the mobile industry. At the time, most people thought he was nuts.”

Today, the situation is entirely different – and for the better.

“Fast forward to today. Android is on fire, and the pace of mobile innovation has never been greater. Over 850000 devices are activated daily through a network of 55 manufacturers and more than 300 carriers,” Page adds, “Android is a tremendous example of the power of partnership, and it just gets better with each version. The latest update, Ice Cream Sandwich, has a beautiful interface that adapts to the form of the device. Whether it’s on a phone or tablet, the software works seamlessly.”

Looking at Android from a more historical perspective changes the game somewhat. I’ve been pretty clear about how I believe Android’s biggest threat is its fragmentation (version-wise, not device-wise), leading to craziness like how only a small percentage of Android users being on Ice Cream Sandwich, and even then, many of those are using some sort of manbearpig version of ICS (thank god for CyanogenMod 9 on my SII). Yes, compared to the cleanliness of iOS, it’s pretty pathetic.

However, if you compare it to the mobile industry of yore, Android is not just an improvement – it’s a monumental, perhaps even revolutionary improvement. Back in the day, each mobile phone was utterly unique, making it very hard to develop for them. Thanks to Android, we’ve been able to retain the wonders and joys of a highly diversified hardware ecosystem, and yet still retain a rather workable and mostly acceptable common software layer.

Supporting the wide variety of Android hardware might be harder than supporting the few devices iOS runs on, but it’s still a hell of a lot better than the way the mobile industry used to work. Android has a lot of weaknesses, but when placed in the proper historical context, it’s still a massive leap forward.


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