Will Android Become a Walled Garden?

In my post on why I’m a webOS enthusiast, I said that I didn’t like Android because it essentially represents Google’s attempt to push mobile users to Google properties and ads. There’s nothing wrong with that—Google exists to make money, and that’s entirely as it should be—but it does mean that Google has a different impetus for how they develop Android. In short, Android will always be designed around Google technology (e.g., search, navigation, augmented reality, etc.) as opposed to purely the most productive technology for the user.

Recently, Google reported that they’re now making more money from ads clicked on by Android users than they spend in developing Android. Thus, their strategy is working, a fact that will tend to strengthen Google’s resolve in pushing Android onto more devices and Android users to Google properties. This raises an interesting question: will Google, intentionally or not, end up creating its own sort of walled garden where Android becomes locked into Google technologies? When Google introduces Google Editions, its own bookstore, for example, will it lead users to it through features built into Android, or will it equally support competing bookstores? Will it enable competitors to implement competing search technology in Android?

Again, I don’t want to imply that there’s anything “wrong” with Google’s business model, which amounts to doing everything it can to build its own force of mobile AdWords clickers. I just wonder if Android users recognize that their prized platform might head in a direction very similar to Apple’s iOS, which is a walled garden built to support Apple’s app and media distribution efforts.

In any event, it reminds me once again why I like HP and Palm so much: they compete exclusively on the inherent strengths of webOS and, so far, remain completely agnostic about what services and content are supported on the devices. And unless HP decides to get into the ads or content business, we can expect things to stay that way.

Update: Engadget reports on Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s contention that Android could represent at $10 billion a year business:

It may not exactly be a huge surprise given the recent market share numbers, but Google CEO Eric Schmidt has recently confirmed that Android is, in fact, profitable for the company. Of course, it doesn’t make all that money from Android directly, but Schmidt says that Android-based phones are already generating enough advertising revenue to cover the cost of development. What’s more, while he doesn’t provide any current specific numbers, Schmidt did say that he expects there to someday be one billion Android phones in the world, and that if each one generated just $10 per user per year it would be a $10 billion business — or, as Newsweek notes, about half of Google’s total revenue for this year. That’s just a tidbit from the full Newsweek piece, though — hit up the source link below to read the whole thing, which also includes a bit of perspective from Google’s Andy Rubin.

Think about that, folks: if you use Android, you’re not a Google customer, you’re really the product that Google is selling. There’s nothing wrong with that, any more than there’s anything wrong with watching network TV and knowing that you’re not really NBC’s (or any network’s) customer. Rather, you’re a number that the network is using to sell advertising time.

Yes, there’s nothing wrong with that at all. But, maybe it’s just a good thing to keep in mind.

Update 2: Engadget also reports on Google Goggles going to the IPhone. They’re confused by that:

We can’t exactly figure out why Google wants to give away all of Android’s competitive advantages, but hey, we doubt the legions of iOS users are kvetching.

Seems like Engadget doesn’t get it. Google wants people exposed to Google ads. They don’t really care if people hit those ads from Android, iOS, or webOS. Ironically, while Android could turn into a walled garden of sorts for Google ads, it won’t necessarily be the only place to get those neat Google features. In short, Android could become more constrained over time, while offering little or no advantages over other platforms in terms of Google capabilities. It’s enough to make one wonder just how much effort Google will continue to put into making Android a truly productive platform.


  1. A nice article, but I see that while this might be true on the wrong run, it doesn’t essentially mean that Google is headed to a walled garden per se.

    Google Android is not a single device, or multi-device OS, its a platform behemoth that eludes the very definition of a platform. Android can be scaled to run on an Alarm Clock. It currently is the backbone of umpteen eReaders, Tablets, Navigation systems, etc.

    We fail to see that Google is omnipresent, and there is no restriction or a walled garden per se. I can interface my Android device with a Twitter API anytime I want, there are no restrictions, also Android has a established homebrew community, not a fledgling one ! If the internet remains Open, there is no way Android is gonna end up in a walled garden scenario.

    Palm’s webOS is currently orphaned, and is being in the process of being adopted. HP can’t spin out a tablet based on its whims anyday now. It needs to study the platform, gather developers, set a market strategy, market its profitability to developers and a lot more. HP can’t afford to focus on a particular service. It has to be agnostic.

    Even though I love webOS unconditionally, we can’t just ignore and keep gossiping about Android’s diabolic future, we need to be positive about webOS and spread love, rather than canards !

    Peace out !

    • Mohammed – You’ll notice that I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with Google’s business model, or with Android because of it. Rather, I’m simply stating my preference–that is, for a company whose objective is to make great productivity solutions rather than the best platform for driving users to click on ads.

  2. Thomas Mark says:

    I think this article explains one of the biggest reasons why I also love WebOS and will always be a supporter of Palm/HP as long as they stick to this philosophy. There are the best aggregator of my social networking, e-mail services, contacts and every other service I use on my phone. Unlike Android or iOS I am able to choose what I prefer to use and not locked into any ecosystem.

    Thomas Mark


  1. [...] My biggest problem with Google, then, is that they’re not focused on making great productivity products. As long as Android is just good enough and runs on enough platforms (guaranteed given its status as free software), then Google is happy. They simply aren’t competing on how Android makes people more productive in any meaningful sense, because they don’t have to. Update: I wrote more about Google and its potential to create a walled garden around Android in this post. [...]

  2. [...] their own things in the mobile space rather than simply emulating Apple, in particular: as I’ve written before, I think HP will create the best platform for running content from a variety of sources, [...]

Speak Your Mind