Could control be the key to Google's Android?

Google has been hedging its open-source Android bets with stringent control over the hardware, a strategy that may well simultaneously bless its mobile strategy and kill it, too.

Andy Rubin, Google's director of mobile platforms, reveals a great deal about Google's mobile strategy in a recent Reuters interview. One thing, in particular, caught my eye and suggests that Google's Android may succeed, and yet fail at the same time:

Rather than launch the new operating system with a range of devices from several handset makers and phone carriers, Rubin said Google chose to "put our blinders on" and make sure the first phones impress consumers....

Google has worked almost exclusively with Taiwan's High Tech Computer Corp and T-Mobile for the first Android phone, he said. "Google wanted to make sure that we had enough control over the hardware to make sure the software worked."...

This control - so important to Apple's iPhone in ensuring a seamless hardware-plus-software experience, may well mean that Android will work as advertised.

It does, however, also mean that Android's would-be open-source developers have far less flexibility than they might otherwise wish to exercise.

Presumably, Google's tight hardware control will be relaxed once the initial launch proves successful. At that point, however, Google will face a dizzying array of hardware devices, each with its own screen size, resolution, keyboard layout, etc.

Open-source projects like Ubik aim to resolve this hardware complexity, and perhaps Google will re-examine adoption of such a project. (I was involved in conversations back in 2004/05 when Google looked at the Ubik technology.)

Regardless, Google is going to have difficulty walking the line between control of the hardware/software experience and freedom of development. If the latter hurts the former, the open-source promise of Android may ring hollow.

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