How Google's Android Silver could become 'Wintel for phones'

Then... and now

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Who loses and who wins?

For Samsung, with its deep pockets and its grip on the market bought through strong distribution and a colossal marketing budget, it’s likely to remain doing what it does today with Android: annoyingly creating its own version of almost every basic function. Why change when what you’re doing has been so successful?

But for an HTC or a Sony, the choice is less clear-cut. Spare a particular thought for HTC, which has just launched the most beautiful phone in the world with its HTC One M8, a phone full of careful and considerate design decisions. HTC is really doing everything Google wants – presenting a clean and simple experience to the user – and there’s no duplication of function or clutter as there is with Samsung and Sony. Yet in a year’s time, if HTC refuses to make its successor (let’s call it the "M9") Silver-compliant, it might (or might not) end up paying a stiff penalty.

It's not impossible, for example, that Silver opt-outs receive slower updates and second-tier service – a manufacturer going it alone might be a lot less quick to push out upgrades.

Also, a non-Silver premium HTC phone would, ounce for ounce, be less profitable than a Silver-compliant model, because Google subsidises the Silver devices. But why should phone-makers be punished for making a superb product just because it's not exactly what Google wants?

HTC could knuckle under and sign up to Silver, and compete on design and brand. HP made a similar decision when it axed NewWave – which was a vast improvement over "Stock Windows 3.0" – in 1992. But HP had lots of other successful complementary products at the time. Lower margins on PCs were not make-or-break for the giant.

Google has gambled, probably correctly, that while manufacturers might grumble, they’ll still toe the line. What they probably won’t do is create a non-Google Android standard. It isn’t really in Sony or Samsung’s DNA to create open platforms.

As for the consequences for the health and diversity of the market – well, we’ll just have to see. The cost of defying Google has just risen substantially. ®

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