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Google forges a Silver bullet for Android, aims it at Samsung's heart

Premium brand to be launched to regain control of the OS

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The rumours are true: Google is working on a new brand called Silver to seize back control of the Android platform.

Details of the thing have been corroborated by multiple sources – and it looks like a declaration of war on Samsung and wannabe top-tier gadget manufacturers.

Along the same lines as its Nexus range, Google will design and subsidise Silver-branded handsets, handpick the manufacturers, and manage production. The new devices will be first in line for Android updates – today's manufacturers are notoriously slow at pushing out upgrades – and there will be plenty of help advertising the devices. The gear must meet Google's strict specifications to gain a Silver badge.

The handhelds must run Google's flavour of Android – the open-source-ish OS it bought in 2005 – rather than customised, bloatware-ridden versions cooked up by some hardware makers. In all, it leaves little room for manoeuvre.

"Google really is turning into the pigs in Animal Farm," one high-level contact at a phone electronics manufacturer told The Register, referring to the book by Orwell. "There's more and more resemblance to Microsoft in the way it controls the PC experience every day. Best of luck [in the premium space], Google have won."

Word of the marketing programme first emerged earlier this month, over on the blog Android Police, and further details appeared this week on The Information.

Slides obtained by Android Police make it clear Google will be in charge of design and production – as well as drawing up and subsidising advertising and marketing campaigns for the devices. The branded Android Silver kit will get preferential treatment when it comes to software updates, and will have access to an exclusive support forum with live video links to Google helpers.

What will happen next?

Silver is Google's bid to control the "true" premium Android experience. So where does it leave manufacturers like Samsung? With Google designing the devices, and the likes of Foxconn building them, Silver relegates anyone in between to a basic logistical, fulfillment function – putting boxes in shops. It's hard to see how anyone can add value in this tiny sliver.

So Silver poses an existential challenge, not just to Samsung, but to other erstwhile tier-one Android phone brands such as Sony and HTC. If they knuckle under, they may win the Google "beauty contest" and be permitted to sell Silver phones. But they won't be able to differentiate the user experience in any significant way. They'll be left with case design and the logo.

Today, Samsung's code and services duplicate many functions in "stock" Android. But it hasn't formally broken away and forked Android as Amazon and Nokia have done. For all their grumbles, the Android licensees so far have preferred to hang separately, than hang together. Today they must be weighing their options – and the daunting cost of creating a joint competing brand to Google's Silver.

Silver is also a measure of how much Google values the data collected by Android devices. Modern phones are spyware in your pocket, monitoring who you meet, where you go, what you say and even your physical state. Note that every competitor in this area has some viable alternative revenue stream – Microsoft has enterprise IT; Apple has high-margin hardware and transactional revenue from app sales; and Samsung profitably sells everything from semiconductors to TVs.

Google alone doesn't have a viable real-world alternative to monetising your personal data. ®

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