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The Google Experience [Opinion]

With the release of the Nexus 7, Google set its sights on Amazon to try and reclaim control of the Android tablet space. Ever since Amazon forked Android for the Kindle Fire there has been some confusion about what OEM software customization means. There seems to be some confusion in the industry about what TouchWiz and Sense really are. More and more often I have seen articles arguing that the Galaxy S III and the Kindle Fire offer the same non-Google experience. Even more shocking, I’ve heard arguments that AOSP is Android and the Nexus line of phones offers the “Google experience.” The question isn’t whether or not OEMs offer a Google experience (they do); the question is if they’ll keep a Google experience.

The idea of “Google experience” devices has existed for a long time. Early android devices that provided a sanctioned Google experience were labeled on the back of the device with the phrase “with Google.” In time, this label disappeared, but the notion that some devices offered an explicitly sanctioned experience by Google did not. In fact, the mess that Google, Motorola, and Samsung encountered with the Skyhook lawsuit revealed much more about the approval process for Android devices than any of the companies involved probably intended. From that litigation we learned that every Google device has to receive approval directly from Google before it can be sold with Google apps. In other words, Google has the power to reject devices if they want to. While the approval process may seem like nothing more than a formality, the Skyhook litigation demonstrated that Google has more intentions than simply letting any Android device get sold with Google apps. Because Samsung and Motorola tried to use Skyhook for GPS data instead of Google’s own location data, some Android devices were delayed while others had major GPS issues. Google also had to give special approval for the original Galaxy Tab to be shipped with Google apps because Google did not want tablets to run any version of Android (Honeycomb wasn’t out, yet).

When Amazon launched the Kindle Fire, and even before that the Amazon Appstore, Amazon set out to create their own experience with Android apart from Google. Their separate experience was more than just a skin on top of Android; it was a fork. Amazon took Android 2.3 and made something totally different for the Amazon Kindle Fire (much like the ill-fated Grid 10 and Grid 4 from Fusion Garage). With their own app store, media distribution, and hardware, Amazon was able to release a product that was completely removed from the Google experience. To try and compare what Amazon did with what Samsung is doing with the Galaxy S III is asinine. While Samsung offers movies and music, Samsung does not have their own app store. The presence of Google Play, Gmail, and other Google apps means that Google sanctions this Android experience. At best, you could say that the Samsung Galaxy S III offers both a Google experience and a Samsung experience, but you cannot say that the device offers only a Samsung experience.

I understand what people are trying to say when they claim that Samsung is offering their own experience akin to the Fire. Each company is trying to carve out their own little empire and they’re trying to do that through Android. The problem is, none of them have been bold enough to do what Amazon did: make an app store and try to market their devices without Google’s help. That said, there could be a time where a manufacturer like Samsung or HTC would try to use the Amazon app store as the stock App Store in on their device instead of the Google Play store. If Google actually wants to take control of Android, that’s going to mean being much more particular about which devices get the Google experience. The problem is, Google is undoubtedly worried that some OEMs will turn Amazon if Google gets more picky. It’s hard to tell if Google is simply biding their time, or simply doesn’t want to go down that road. Perhaps Google is fine with the chaotic experiences that Android manufacturers are putting on phones as long as Play is still on every device.

When Google bought Motorola it was theorized that Google was trying to avoid Motorola suing other OEMs, which would have been a nightmare for Google. Perhaps the real nightmare would be Google having to convince OEMs to use the Play store instead of Amazon’s Appstore. Google appears to already be trying to convince manufacturers to not fork Android by expanding the Nexus program, but with their agreement to keep AOSP free and open for five years manufacturers could be a thorn in Google’s side.

If I were running an Android OEM, I would think very carefully before switching from Google’s ecosystem to Amazon’s. Chances are most OEMs don’t want to leave Google’s fold because of the security it offers. Google is dedicated to making Android better with every release and the Play Store features many more apps than Amazon’s Appstore (plus the only way to get Google’s apps is to follow Google’s rules). Is Google scared that some OEMs will use Amazon’s ecosystem instead of Google’s? If so, what can they do to guarantee that they will stay in Google’s ecosystem? Perhaps being a part of the Nexus program is agreeing to only release Android devices within Google’s ecosystem. Most have assumed that expanding the Nexus program was about assuaging concerns that Google is going to favor Motorola, but maybe for Google it is a way to ensure that manufacturers stick with Google’s ecosystem instead of Amazon’s.

If Amazon is preparing to launch a phone as well and that phone is successful (which I highly doubt), OEMs might be more tempted to switch to Amazon’s ecosystem for more control over their product (TouchWiz, Sense, etc.). Maybe that is also why Google hasn’t cracked down on skins, because they want to ensure OEMs are happy with Google. If Google’s aim is to use Android as a mechanism to keep putting Google services, and therefore ads in front of people, Google probably doesn’t care about the multiplicity of Android experiences out there. I have a feeling, however, that Andy Rubin and Matias Duarte want to do more with Android than that. I also have a feeling that Page and Brin want more than that. Android is Google’s future, and I think Google wants to make it the best version of the future possible. By expanding the Nexus program, maybe Google hopes that more users will opt for Google’s experience, pushing OEMs to continue to tone down skins or get rid of them altogether so that only a pure Google experience for Android remains.

Of course, all of this is just speculation at this point, but one thing is clear: Google is gunning to make the Kindle Fire obsolete, and perhaps Amazon’s ecosystem with it. When Amazon first released their Appstore I didn’t think much of it. I still don’t use it because most apps are released on the Play Store and I don’t want to manage two stores with separate updates. Hopefully the Nexus 7 and its successors will continue to push Amazon out of the smartphone and tablet market, giving Google the space and control it needs to take on Apple (and perhaps Microsoft) in the tablet space.

  • ferrari187

    “Hopefully the Nexus 7 and its successors will continue to push Amazon out of the smartphone and tablet market”
    i know this is an android site but competition is always good

    • JoshGroff

      Amazon had a nice solid device with the Kindle Fire. At such a low price point, I might buy a Kindle Fire 2 (or whatever they call it when it comes out) and the Nexus 7.

    • http://twitter.com/havens1515 Randroid

      Competition is good, but the Amazon App store is crap.

      And truly, competition comes into play WITHIN the market/Play Store, not in implementing multiple different markets. That’s just unnecessary (dare I use this word…) fragmentation.

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      Sure, competition is great, but that doesn’t mean I can’t root for the product I want.

  • http://twitter.com/Section179 Section179

    I know this is just a blog, but this was pretty awful article.

    Difficult to read and rambling in places.

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      I’ll try harder next time. :)

  • ccg07

    Please refrain from posting Ron opinion articles. They make me consider removing this website from my bookmark list.

    • Jigga_Z

      Nobody is making you read the article, just skip it if you can’t handle reading someone’s opinion ;)

      • http://twitter.com/Section179 Section179

        Jigga, what was the opinion expressed in the article? Seriously, it doesn’t seem to have a focus and it’s just all over the place

        • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

          There were two opinions that I was trying to express: (1) Amazon may want to expand its Appstore and media to other devices as the main source of apps and media, (2) Google may see Amazon as a threat to its ecosystem as a whole, not just as a tablet competitor, and may be reacting accordingly.

          • http://twitter.com/Section179 Section179

            Sorry Ron, that was a bit of a kneejerk reaction comment. I enjoy the site.

          • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

            No worries. It’s okay to dislike or disagree with an article. :)

      • Counsel Dew

        … but you are complainng about hi post just as he complained about the article. To each their own. Who cares who likes which device? I just care what I like… :)

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      They’re marked as opinion and labeled with my name. If you don’t like them, don’t read them.

  • ccg07

    Please never post a Ron opinion article again.

  • rockstar323

    The thing is, the majority of people that bought the Fire didn’t buy it because of amazon. They bought it because it was a good tablet with decent specs at a cheap price from a company they had heard of. Had any manufacture, Samsung, HTC, Moto, even LG put one out at that price point it would have done just as well. I for one recommended it to numerous people that wanted a cheap tablet, also talked a few of them out of buying a off brand Android tablet online for $100-$150. An Amazon phone will not sell. If Amazon does release one they will lose money on it, hard.

    I think the only manufacture that has a chance of forking Android and going with Amazon or another market and surviving is Samsung. They are the largest Android manufacture they have a butt load of money and people recognize their name. That being said, it would still be a huge risk. They lose Google’s services and would be well behind in terms of software unless they plan to keep forking every time Google comes out with a new version of Android. Ginger Bread has nothing on Jelly bean and it’s only going to get better. They also run the risk of awakening the giant. Android may have to be free and open for 5 years but that doesn’t mean Google can’t release their own hardware. Could you imagine an Android phone with Google’s name on it as the manufacturer? I just had a nerdgasm thinking about it. They would be able to pull users from every other manufacturer without breaking a sweat because regards of HTC, Moto, or Sammy fanboy we’re still all Android fanboys. I’m sure we can all agree if they were to get into the hardware game they wouldn’t skimp on the specs. Hell look at the Q. I don’t think they will sell a lot of them but it is a good looking device.

    In the end Google won’t go down without a fight and they have the money to wage one hell of a war.

    • JoshGroff

      I can hear the war cry now “FOR GOOGLE!!!”

  • bakdroid

    And the point of this article was….

    Also, if you ran a company it would be bankrupt in 5 minutes. You have no clue.

  • http://twitter.com/Wil_Payne Wil Payne

    The Kindle Fire is almost entirely irrelevant and obsolete. Google will dictate future actions with the launch of the rumored Nexus Line expansion, how well Apple does with the next iPhone, and other fun stuff.

    One thing I think Google might be biding their time with is something crazy, like a buyout of T-Mobile. That would be predicated on all of the above, Google Fiber’s success, and how far Verizon pushes a busted Android platform filled with locked bootloaders and questionable data plans.

    • gkinsella2

      This would create a true Google “ecosystem”. What we have now is simply a combination of experiences. Nexus = Google Experience. Nexus on an unlocked Motorola phone with “G-Mobile” as the carrier would be your ecosystem.

      • JoshGroff

        I was a T-Mobile user for 7 years before switching to VZW, I’d have to say a Google buyout would be much appreciated, they really need that network expanded and Google has the cash to do something about it.

    • Wes

      Likely won’t happen. I doubt the guv’ment would approve of such a vertical monopoly, similar to how AT&T got busted for trying to make thier own phones back in the 80′s.

  • nightscout13

    TLDR

  • Prime7

    With all due respect, this article is nonsense. You are using “experience” and “ecosystem” interchangeably when the two don’t mean the same thing at all. When you use a Nexus with stock Android and then another device with a skin, the two don’t *feel* the same–which implies that your *experience* with them won’t be the same. It has nothing to do with the presence of the Play Store (or Amazon App Store) or the ecosystem.

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      They do according to Google. A device labeled “with Google” came with Google’s apps and offered a sanctioned, Google experience. You could argue that the Nexus line offers a pure Google experience, but any device with Google apps is a sanctioned Google experience by Google’s own definition. When I use a Galaxy Nexus and a Nexus S my experience is different too. The experience that Google wants to deliver is Google apps. They also want stock Android out there, but apparently not enough to require it. The Play Store (and the Android Market before it) defined whether or not a device was sanctioned by Google.

      • Prime7

        I understand that, but by Ron’s logic, if I were to install Amazon App Store onto my phone, I would no longer be having the “Google experience,” which is nonsense.

        • Jigga_Z

          No, that’s not correct. If you were to have a phone that Google didn’t allow for Google Apps to be installed on, that would be a non-Google experience device, If you take a normal device (like the Droid X) and remove all the Google stuff and slap in Amazon’s app store, that doesn’t remove the “Google Experience”, you’re just choosing to not fully utilize it. The hardware and underlying software are still part of the experience (see the skyhook section and the Galaxy Tab section)

        • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

          First of all, I’m Ron, so you can stop addressing me in the third person. ;)

          Second of all, installing the Amazon Appstore onto your phone would not rid your phone of the Google experience. You could possibly say that you were adding a piece of the Amazon experience, but nothing more (which is why I said that the Galaxy S III can be said to offer both the Google experience and the Samsung experience).

      • owan

        Being sanctioned by Google and having the “pure” experience is different. When I get a skinned version I’m interacting with the android UI as interpreted by that particular OEM. Do I trust that the OEM will design a better UI than Google? If yes, then sure, I can get the Android “experience” with any skinned phone, but i’m not getting the Google android experience. Your article basically ignores the fact that having the same UI and having the Google play store are two fundamentally different issues.

        • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

          My article doesn’t ignore the issue of skins and UIs. It’s looking at that issue from a fundamentally different angle. I’ve written extensively about OEM’s skins. Do their skins offer a dramatically different experience than a Nexus device? Absolutely, but historically Google would still say that a device with a skin and Google apps is “with Google,” or offering a Google experience. The very fact that Google has to approve these phones before they launch with Google apps points to that fact. You could maybe say that because of this Google supports multiple Google experiences in conjunction with their own version.

          • owan

            What Google says publicly, or the way that they certify devices doesn’t have anything to do with the way that they’re perceived by the community at large. Is your point is that readers shouldn’t use the term “google experience” to refer to the Nexus because every phone with google apps has already been dubbed the “Google Experience” by the powers that be? That “angle” doesn’t make any sense because the consumers have obviously spoken and chosen to differentiate between a skinned version of android and a stock version. How Google chooses to differentiate is irrelevant because its all marketing and lip service to placate OEMs, what matters is that the discerning customer does not consider skinned versions to be the true “Google Experience”.

    • bose301s

      Exactly this, a Google Experience device is a device that runs the stock AOSP UI. All the skinned phones are not pure Google Experience devices, but they are part of the Android Ecosystem. The Fire, while based on Android is part of the Amazon ecosystem, completely different.

  • http://www.twitter.com/thewizkid95 Jesus Otero

    I don’t like this article.
    No pictures :s

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      The picture on top doesn’t count?

      • http://www.twitter.com/thewizkid95 Jesus Otero

        They all have a picture on the top tho :s lol
        But I guess I’ll give it a try lol
        I always like all your other articles :D

  • rader023

    Have Amazon appstore on my galaxy nexus. Not on the 7……I don’t want the hassle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/treswaters Tres Nugget Waters

    Amazon’s app store is a headache and a half. The free app of the day is it’s only enticement as far as I’m concerned. I don’t see OEMs switching to Amazon’s ecosystem without some kind of allure; an allure that I just don’t see.

    • http://www.facebook.com/treswaters Tres Nugget Waters

      Great read nonetheless

    • LegalAmerican

      Half of there “Free Apps of the Day” are free everyday. so even that is useless.

  • Bada Bear

    If you built the Android ecosystem, wouldn’t you want to make sure people use your services? Google is giving away Android for free and makes it open source. Anyone can fork it and try to run with it, but would they have the resources to keep up? I’m guessing Google hasn’t locked things down figuring that they can keep out innovating and updating with new features and enhancements so that it becomes a big challenge for some to fork and keep up. I think this will become clear enough when Amazon launches Kindle Fire 2.

    I commend Google for opening doors for competition and for giving communities across the ability to utilize the source for their need.

    • abcd someone

      Except at this point, there isn’t much left to do. I mean, most of the new features in ice and KB have been available and possibly could have been found on the play store. I mean, even the completion is only doing maps now because what else is there to do?@

  • http://www.facebook.com/Pengwnmastr Mitchell Johnson

    Great read as always Ron. I’m still amazed that you’re able to stay in the middle when it comes to all subjects.
    The only time I’ve not had a “google experience” is when I try to look for something on my roommates phone, which is typically much harder then on stock. The OG Droid was my first and the Gnex was my second so I’m a little spoiled when it comes to a google experience.

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      Thanks! :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/treswaters Tres Nugget Waters

      Right there with ya

  • Wesley Schwartz

    Also, the Amazon Appstore has more lag than any other app I’ve ever used. If the Play Store can run smoothly on my GNex, the Amazon Appstore should be able to as well.

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      Agreed; it’s pretty bad.

  • http://twitter.com/KickingLettuce Kicking Lettuce

    The Amazon Appstore is pretty bad; I can’t see Samsung, HTC, et al using Amazon services. That would be a poor business decision. The Fire as successful only because of the price point. Not the quality of Amazon’s services (Yes, their shopping books and music do beat Google’s, but this is a tablet and we are talking apps.)

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      Apps are huge, but music, books, and movies are critical too. Google needs to get every major label on Google Music still, for example. I think that’s why Google is gunning after Amazon first – to get their media selection up to par.

      • quiklives

        I really, really want to see more media available in the Play store. Books and music are my main things, but all media, really. It’s the only part of my Nexus 7 experience I find frustrating. I can get those missing songs and books elsewhere, but it’s more of a hassle.

        • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

          Exactly. Having media that everyone wanted made it easy for Apple to sell iOS devices, especially media driven ones like the iPad. More media should help sales.

          • quiklives

            Yes, and it’s still certainly the thing that Apple users are justified in touting about their devices over Android. (which is also really frustrating lol)

            Ultimately, I’ll take the N7 over any other device out there right now, even with the thin media library on the Play Store, because as I said, I know where to go to get the other media.

            And it’s nice that I can upload my own music to my Google Music. I wish they would allow me to do the same with the almost-1000 digital books I have acquired over the years.

        • JoshGroff

          You can download Amazon MP3 and stuff from the play store.

      • majormudafuckinhun

        Google’s already got an awesome music hub called YouTube! That’s where I get my tunes!

    • quiklives

      I’d just add to this that, mostly because of the price point, a lot of the Fire’s sales went to people who are largely not tech-savvy, people who would not normally buy a tablet, probably don’t have a smartphone, but may have already owned a Kindle. In those use-cases, it makes perfect sense, and probably feels very fancy and advanced to them, especially if they’re already invested in the Amazon ecosystem.

      • JoshGroff

        To be honest, at it’s price point, it was pretty much the best tablet. Now, with the Nexus 7 out, I have a new device to recommend.

    • InyRules

      I chose NOT to buy a Kindle Fire because the majority of the apps I would use on it are free on the Play Store, while the Amazon App Store wants to charge you for everything. Even though I am a Prime member, I found the Kindle Fire and it’s services don’t benefit me that greatly. The MP3 store app and the Kindle app are free on the Play Store, and Amazon currently does not offer a wide enough library of free movies/TV shows for their members to justify the Kindle Fire. The Fire is only really neat for the price point, but really, people would be crazy to choose it over the Nexus 7.

  • paladaxar

    tldr; got the GNex so that I could have a true Google Experience…’nuff said :)

    • JoshGroff

      I’d rather have an S-off HTC over a Nexus. That’s also because my first phone was an HTC Sensation and I’ve sort of grown accustomed to Sense, but to each his own right? Now when it comes to tablets where I’m less likely to care about Sense’s social app integration, give me that pure Google.