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

Then... and now

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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