With the restructuring, Google could finally be in a better position to deal with Android's problems
New Delhi: Google Inc. is restructuring itself under a new parent company called Alphabet Inc. As CEO Larry Page said in the official communication with investors, “Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies. The largest of which, of course, is Google."
This new corporate structure divides the massive Google monolith into smaller and more manageable entities, with their own individual CEOs to lead the growth. Longtime Google executive Sundar Pichai has now been promoted as the CEO of Google.
The new Google
Under the leadership of Pichai, the restructured Google will include services meant for consumers. Google’s search and advertising business is the most dominant globally, garnering almost $50 billion a year. That stays with Google Inc. The company also made it clear over the past few years that it is betting big on smartphones as well on wearable devices — Android (phone, watch, TV, etc.), Gmail, Maps, Google Now, Photos, Play Store and other apps.
Cleaning the Android mess
Android is the most popular smartphone operating system globally. But, it has some major problems to deal with. Fragmented ecosystem, security issues with the software and phone makers who spend more time competing with each other than actually improving the user experience of Android devices.
Latest reports suggest that only 2.6% of the phones run the Android Lollipop 5.1 version and only 15.5% run the Android Lollipop 5.0 version — that means less than 20% of the devices are running the two latest iterations of the operating system.
The biggest challenge is to close the gap to Apple’s seamless update method — of all the iPhones, iPads and iPods being used globally right now, 85% run the latest iOS 8 version, while only 13% are using the older iOS 7. While all Android users may not always crave for the latest piece of software on their phone, not having it actually hampers the user experience at some point of time or the other.
The major chunk of the blame lies with the lazy smartphone makers, who Google must whip into shape—they either don’t bother to roll out Android updates, or do so in a haphazard and delayed fashion. Google, last year, wanted to take greater control with the Android One project. That didn’t really take off, but perhaps it is a good time to revisit it and also rope in more manufacturers to give consumers the sort of choice that has always been Android’s hallmark.
Then there is the problem of security, which the restructured Google can now tackle with greater focus. One reason why critical security updates cannot be rolled out quickly is the uncontrolled customizations that Google allows smartphone makers to do on Android phones. Perhaps the much-criticized Apple has a point, when it wields complete control over the software and hardware for its iOS devices. At the moment, that is not happening. And it will only be possible if Google has strict control over what sort of add-ons phone makers are putting over Android.
When Pichai took charge of Android development in the spring of 2013, Android was pretty much restricted to phones and tablets. Now, however, Android must bet big on televisions, gaming consoles and wearables. The company has already scrapped the clunky Google TV project and is pushing the revamped Android TV platform to television makers such as Sony and Philips.
The focus is now on a more wholesome user experience, which blends in the TV functionality seamlessly with streaming services, apps and games. Nvidia’s Shield console is perhaps an indicator of the future, because this simple gadget can add the complete Android TV experience to any TV out there. By getting this into people’s living rooms, Google has the chance to open a steady revenue stream from services and subscriptions—Google Play Movies is one such example.
Pichai faces the dual dilemma of how to clean up the current mess Android is in, and how to push the platform into more and more products, improving monetization. Under the new structure, he has much more freedom to take decisions, and if the indications we got at Google I/O conference this year mean anything, Pichai’s focus will be on getting the basics right and focusing on incremental product improvement along the way. Perhaps, breaking up Google into more manageable bits could just be the pill for Android’s success.