Elements of Google’s Pixel will not feed back into Android, extending the problem of fragmentation of the platform whilst also weakening the concept of Android as an open OS available to everybody. For Samsung, Huawei, LG and others the Pixel should cause them to take a step back and reconsider the long-term viability of their partnership with Google.
By effectively jumping into the ring to compete with its own partners in the premium space Google has put every one of them at a disadvantage. So long as Pixel functionality is kept off the core Android platform and as long as Google sets the direction for Android those Android OEMs are competing against Google with one arm tied behind their backs.
This is not the same as Microsoft’s play with Surface, because Windows 10 is a level playing field, each partner gets the same platform and functionality baked into the OS and Microsoft doesn’t give itself a built-in advantage against its partners.
Right now fragmentation in the Android space is bad. In future its likely to get worse.
What’s the alternative for Android OEMs? Given that both Samsung and Huawei are Windows 10 partners, a switch to Microsoft would seem sensible. Not to Windows 10 Mobile but rather to an AOSP version of Android (i.e. Google free) running Microsoft’s Office / Cortana / Groove stack. Its a play that Nokia briefly tried with its Android X phones before Microsoft bought out its phone division and its a play that could work well for Microsoft and the OEMs.
Google’s Play services are not free to OEMs – and given that most Android device manufacturers are paying Microsoft a licence fee anyway, switching to Microsoft services could reduce their costs in getting new devices to market.
If Microsoft has any interest in mobile (and if it hasn’t then things are very wrong) it should be working hard to leverage Google’s Pixel misstep to wrest ownership of Android away.
So, a Samsung Galaxy running TouchWiz on top of a Cyanogen AOSP base and Microsoft services as default. Sound attractive?