Mark Bridge writes:
Recent figures released by ABI Research have prompted the market intelligence company to ask whether Google is losing control of the Android ecosystem.
At first glance, Android dominated smartphone shipments for the final quarter of 2013. ABI Research says 77% of the 287 million smartphones shipped in Q4 2013 were running Android. Across the entire year, Android accounted for 78% of all smartphone shipments. (ABI’s figures show a total of almost one billion smartphones shipped in 2013, while IDC calculated that total shipments were just over a billion).
However, ABI Research notes that most of the recent growth has come from ‘forked’ Android operating systems that are based on the open-source parts of Android (the Android Open Source Project, or AOSP). These are independent mobile operating systems that share many features with other Android phones but don’t have the same level of Google integration. The Amazon Kindle FireOS and Xiaomi’s MIUI are both popular examples of a forked Android OS.
Growth in forked Android operating systems is up 137% year-on-year - mainly in China, India and other Asian markets - with forked Android or open-source Android devices accounting for 25% of all smartphone shipments (71 million units). The certified version of Android took 52% of the market, giving Android its total 77% market share for Q4 2013.
There was also growth in other operating systems, with the Apple iOS increasing from 15% market share in Q3 2013 to 18% in Q4 (but down year-on-year from 23% in Q4 2012) and Windows Phone maintaining a 4% market share (the same as Q3, with Nokia accounting for almost 90% of these devices).
The question now is whether - or how - Google will respond to the potential loss of revenue from devices that take advantage of basic Android functionality without using Google services.
As Nick Spencer, senior practice director for mobile devices at ABI Research, puts it: “The growth of AOSP is significant for Android’s owner Google, because AOSP does not offer Google’s services (due to their unavailability in China), impacting Google’s ability to monetize the Android ecosystem.”
In the past few days we’ve seen Google selling Motorola Mobility to Lenovo (whilst hanging on to Motorola’s patents) and doing a patent licensing deal with Samsung. Could this be the beginning of a new campaign that encourages manufacturers to use Google’s own version of Android... or even requires them to make a formal commitment?