Just recently, we came across the news that many US-based companies have started to cut ties with the Chinese company Huawei.
Now, as it seems there will be casualties on both sides. While Huawei might lose on its smartphone business, the company says there will be some impact of the decision in the US as well.
In an update to the news, the government has issued a temporary license allowing Huawei to continue its operations until August 19, 2019.
But still, there is one important question.
The extent of Android monopoly
For almost all of my digital life, I have only seen two operating systems ruling the smartphone industry. These are Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. Both the platforms have millions of users and there is hardly any chance that a new OS will be able to stand against them.
This does raise some concerns. Especially, when I hear that just a single decision by Google can shake the very existence of a popular smartphone brand.
As far as repair measures are concerned, Huawei has said they’ve been future-proofing themselves for a while. For their smartphones, they already have the home-baked Kirin SoCs. There are reports of a new mobile operating system in the works as well.
Currently, Huawei has access to AOSP or open source version of the Android which doesn’t contain any proprietary Google apps or services. Still, even if their new OS will be based on Android, they’ll have to create their own update system.
Anyway, talking about Android, it almost has a monopoly in the market unless you’re using an iPhone which is again very expensive and has lesser market share. So, many of us are left with an Android smartphone. Obviously, you’re not hearing all of this for the first time.
Now, Android itself is open source but the truth is you can’t use it without Google. If you don’t have a Google account, you can’t download apps from the Play Store or get software updates. And by signing up for a Google account, you have invited all the tracking to your life.
So, we should view Android and Google services as a combined thing. Because that’s the kind of Android most people use on their smartphones.
Yes, you do have different options like Stock Android and its different flavors on different smartphones, but Google garnishes most of them with its tracking codes. However, it’s a different discussion that how much tracking itself is okay.
Why is Android so BIG?
Initially, Android started out as an OS developed for digital cameras. But later, Google purchased it, refined it, established Android monopoly and turned it into something that has made our phones ‘smart.’ So, here, a big credit goes to Google’s software know-how and the AI it’s stuffing into Android to make it better.
There is no denying the fact that being open source has contributed to Android’s success. Other than Google’s own Stock Android, we can see many third-party developers trying out their own implementations. You might’ve heard about custom ROMs LineageOS, Paranoid Android, Pixel Experience, and so on. The most popular one was the long-gone CynanogenMod which managed to officially land on some Android devices.
All of this highlights the diversity of Android and shows how open it is. But, in reality, actually using these ROMs as daily drivers is not feasible for many.
Mostly, because it requires some technical knowledge on the users’ part. Otherwise, you might end up bricking your phone. On top of that, you need to build the user’s trust which doesn’t come easily.
Also, there is one thing that I personally feel is a significant reason for Android’s (and Google’s) success. There is some kind of a soft corner that many people have for Google. There is this belief that the company is some kind of a saint and can’t do anything wrong.
This thing is very much visible when, for instance, you put Google alongside Facebook. If we compare, Facebook is nowhere near the amount of data that Google has on us. Even if we set the Cambridge Analytica scandal aside, Facebook’s reputation isn’t as good as Google’s.
Here’s another situation. How many people prefer the backup solution of their device maker over Google Backup? It could be possible that it might have some good features.
Still, people don’t complain as much. Maybe, they don’t feel that much concern when giving away system permissions to Google apps. Here, the lack of awareness could be one of the reasons.
The impact Google has on our lives, sometimes, sends a chill down my spine.
What are the alternatives?
In the past, we saw how Android monopoly destroyed the supremacy of Nokia’s Symbian devices. Later, I used the Lumia 520 running Windows Phone. It was possibly one of the smoothest devices I have used to date.
I thought maybe Microsoft has the money and popularity of becoming the third alternative. But Windows Phone also bombed miserably as it failed to attract developers who would make apps for Windows Phone devices.
Over the years, several alternatives came but they couldn’t make a dent in the success of Android. You can name a few like Meego, KDE’s Plasma Mobile, Firefox OS, Samsung’s Tizen and Bada, and so on.
In the current scenario, companies are trying to follow the idea that if you can’t beat them, join them. Amidst all of this, if a company has to start making a software from scratch, then it’s going to be a really tough task.
Considering Android is open source, one can possibly strip out all the Google stuff from the OS and use it as an alternative. Or it can be
So first you need to make a promising OS and create an extensive app ecosystem around it. After that, all you can do is sit and hope that people would get out of their Android and iOS comfort zone and try out your software.
Regarding the apps, possibly, one of the best things right now is PWA (Progressive Web Apps). These are web apps that can run on almost any platform. So, a developer working on Android and iOS won’t have much problem porting his apps to some new operating system.
Why are you telling me this?
I am not trying to paint a bad picture of Android. In fact, Android is my daily driver. But the point I’m trying to make is — do we want to live with this monopoly? Also, there’s another fact that we don’t have any promising alternative that’s also easy on the pocket.
Let me rephrase it.
What is better: Having only one software with worldwide reach or multiple alternatives so you don’t depend on just a single OS?
Of course, there are perks of having the same software on all the devices. You get better support, more apps, and you don’t face any problems when switching to a new phone.
Also, another thing is whether we want to consider Android + Google Services as one thing, and some OS based on Android (without Google) as an alternative.
But still, this question needs an answer.