Amazon’s Maps Show Android’s Directionlessness

If you were having a problem accepting my view that Amazon was determined not to be a Google supporter even though Android is the basis for the Kindle Fire line, listen up.  Amazon is releasing its own mapping tools and APIs, following in Apple’s footsteps, and for exactly the same reasons.  Mobile is about local, local is about shopping, and shopping is about where to shop.  This obviously raises some questions about Google’s Android direction.

The fundamental problem Android has is that it’s not like Windows in a critical way; you can’t update system software in a generic way because of customization done by device vendors.  That means that Google can’t push new features to older devices and it can’t insure that every Android device is immediately able to utilize the stuff that Google makes available.  That, in turn, tends to turn the “Android community” into the “Android Balkans.”

But as bad as that is, there are other issues that could be worse.  If you can’t upgrade Android in place, then why base your plans as a device vendor on Google’s new versions?  Why not take the Open Source version (which is still hanging around 3.x) and build your own top-end software above it?  Now you have differentiation.  The risk is that you may not be able to run all newer-version-dependent apps, but if you weren’t going to upgrade to the newest version then you’ve lost nothing.  This is essentially the path Amazon has taken, and the risk has been limited by the very Balkanization of Android anyway; developers tend to make their stuff backward-compatible where humanly possible because there are so many “backward Android versions” to be compatible with.

And more every day.  Jelly Bean, the new Android version, isn’t yet committed for the great majority of Android devices out there.  In fact about as many devices are definitively NOT going to be upgraded as are committed to be so.  I noted when Jelly Bean came out that it was possibly THE critical upgrade for Android in terms of experience, and Google should have moved heaven and earth to get it on everything, including subsidizing vendors to upgrade.  That’s still what they should do.

Even Mozilla’s Firefox OS concept plays on the limitations of Android.  Like Kindle Fire, it uses a core Android from the open source version, but it builds a more web-customizable GUI on top.  If something like it takes off then it really impacts not only Android but also Apple, because you could build a browser that could run Firefox OS apps on pretty much any platform.  So in short, Google has an Android problem at the time when they need one the least.


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