Google’s mobile business has been performing quite well for the company. The search giant’s Android operating system is easily besting all other competitors around the world; a host of vendors are lining up to work with Google; and most analysts would agree that over the next several years, it will be the search giant that will lead all others in total mobile software market share.
But for all the good progress at Google, there are also several major issues with the company’s mobile division that it needs to address in the coming months and years. From its trouble with lawsuits to continued fragmentation in the marketplace, there’s no clear way for Google to fully insulate itself from the multiple threats its mobile division will have to contend with in the coming years.
Read on to find out more about Google’s mobile troubles and how those issues are affecting the company’s ability to strengthen its leadership position in the mobile OS marketplace.
1. It’s losing on patents
Arguably Google’s biggest threat in the mobile industry right now is its patent portfolio. The search giant’s patents pale in comparison to those of Apple, RIM, and countless other companies, putting it at risk of continued litigation. To help bolster its portfolio, Google recently bought 1,000 patents from IBM. The company also tried to acquire Nortel patents, but failed. Looking ahead, Google must continue to buy patents, or it could be in deep trouble.
2. Lawsuits galore
Google and its Android partners have been hit hard by lawsuits. The search giant is currently being sued by Oracle over claims that Android violates some of the company’s patents. Android vendors, including Motorola, Barnes & Noble and HTC, among others, have also been sued. If Google and its vendor partners lose some judgments, it could prove extremely damaging for the search giant’s mobile future.
3. Vendor quality is a mixed bag
Looking around the mobile space, there are several Android handsets that have proved attractive to consumers, led by the Samsung Galaxy S II smartphone. However, there are still a host of devices that those same folks won’t find so appealing, including the LG Vortex and Motorola Citrus, among others. Simply put, Android handset quality is a bit of a mixed bag right now. And considering Apple continues to deliver compelling devices to consumers, Google is at a disadvantage. The time has come for Google to make more demands on its handset partners to ensure the design and quality of Android handsets are top-notch across the board. It’s best for every stakeholder.
4. It still hasn’t sold consumers on tablets
When the Motorola Xoom launched, some believed that Google would finally make inroads in the tablet space. But after that device failed, due mainly to a less-than-stellar Android 3.0 Honeycomb installation, it was back to the drawing board for the search giant. Now with Android 3.1 running on the Galaxy Tab 10.1, things have gotten better, but they’re still not where they need to be. Consumers still prefer the iPad over all other tablets and if that continues, Google’s mobile business won’t grow as robustly as it could.
Google Needs to Fortify Its Market Position
5. iOS is still more polished
Android is a fine operating system that’s improving with each passing day. But that doesn’t mean that it can match iOS. Quite the contrary, Apple’s mobile operating system still delivers a more polished experience to consumers, as evidenced by its superior virtual keyboard, strong native applications and general usability. Admittedly, Google is catching up, and in a few short years, Android might be better than iOS. But for now, it isn’t.
6. Fragmentation is still a problem
Although Google says that it will do much more in the future to handle Android fragmentation, the issues are still big enough for there to be cause for concern. According to the Android developer page, 59.4 percent of devices are running Android 2.2. However, 17.6 percent are running Android 2.3.3 and 17.5 percent are using Android 2.1. That’s not a good thing. Google needs to find a way to get all of the Android handsets out there running the latest and greatest version of its platform. By doing so, it can go a long way in appealing more to developers, as well as consumers that wait patiently for their updates.
7. It needs to be more open, open source
When Mozilla announced plans to create an open-source mobile operating system that’s tied to the cloud, it said that it would share source code with the public as it was being developed. By doing so, the organization was firing a shot over the bow of Google, which only shares source code after a version of its platform is ready to go. If Google really wants to carry the banner for the open-source community, it needs to be more, well, open.
8. There’s no insulation
Google’s Android platform is undoubtedly selling well. Over the next several years, few would argue that Android will lose its lead in the mobile OS market. But what’s stopping another competitor, like Microsoft, from toppling Android? The fact is Google doesn’t have any insulation in the mobile market. With a strong OS release and some good deals with vendors, companies like Microsoft can come along and swallow up serious market share in no time. Over the next few years, Google must find a way to insulate itself-or else.
9. It doesn’t have an iPhone killer
Over the last few years, Google has been releasing smartphones with its branding to help drive interest in Android. A major problem is that those devices haven’t been able to compete well against Apple’s iPhone. As the mobile market continues to mature and consumers increasingly turn to smartphones, Google should have a device with its branding that is on the same level as Apple’s iPhone. By doing so, Google can make a more compelling argument against Apple, and with any luck at all, start driving iPhone sales down. Don’t underestimate the power of an iPhone killer.
10. Chromebooks are a source of confusion
Earlier this year, Google launched its Chrome operating system on a series of Chromebooks from Samsung and Acer. The devices are basically netbooks, featuring small, lightweight designs. And although they suffer from a host of issues, due mainly to limitations in Chrome OS, their biggest problem is that they can be a source of confusion for consumers. Chromebooks are mobile products that, in theory, compete against tablets and to a lesser extent, smartphones. What’s more, they’re running an operating system that has serious potential. And if sales ever take off, they might just cannibalize Android tablet sales. To offer up Chromebooks as mobile alternatives seems to be a mistake.