Just as commentary heightens around Google’s seemingly lackadaisical approach to Android fragmentation, the company pulled back the curtain a little bit more on its plans for Ice Cream Sandwich’s successor, Jelly Bean. According to unnamed sources, The Wall Street Journal reports that Google will give multiple mobile device makers early access to Jelly Bean in order to create a more robust ecosystem once it launches. This will minimize staggered device releases and updates, and enable Android to better compete with Apple’s linear approach.
It’s a major shift for Google, which currently works with one device manufacturer to create a flagship phone. While Google started this format with the HTC-built Nexus One, Samsung became Google’s manufacturer of choice over the past year or so. And with Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility last year, it was expected that Google would begin selling its own line of devices, though many worried Google would favor its in-house team over partner OEMs for Android version roll-outs.
Google takes control
It seems Google is hoping to squelch those concerns with a plan to treat its manufacturer partners equally, taking more control over Android’s distribution and enabling a comprehensive ecosystem where Android remains the center of attention. We may see a Jelly Bean device as early as Thanksgiving, with a portfolio of Nexus devices, including smartphones and tablets, from multiple manufacturers. These gadgets would be sold unlocked in the U.S., Europe and Asia through Google’s online store and selected retailers, leaving buyers to pay more for the device and work out data contracts with carriers themselves. This plan also gives full access to apps like Google Wallet, which is currently blocked by carriers like Verizon on subsidized Android phones.
From the manufacturing side to retail, Google is implanting its influence at every level of Android’s distribution without necessarily ruining its open platform mantra. As top OEM Samsung blatantly works on its own mobile OS, and Facebook builds a mobile presence through acquisitions and an integrated catalog of apps, Google recognizes that Android must be a tighter ecosystem under its reign in order to maintain leadership in the mobile sector. Ensuring that these emerging subsystems still plug into Android will keep Google on top, and diminish the growing threat of rivals.