Nov 29, 2013 KitKat—or Kit Fox?
Google courted a lot of attention for Android 4.4 through the cunning cross-marketing made possible by the upgraded operating system’s code name, KitKat, which also is the name of a crunchy, chocolaty treat. But the new operating system actually is not very different from 4.3 (aka Jelly Bean). So why make the fuss over it?
Here’s how we’re reading the situation:
Google is doing what it can to replicate benefits of the “closed ecosystem” enjoyed by arch-rival Apple. If you want an iOS operating system, and its attendant apps, you buy an iPad or iPhone from… Apple. When Apple is ready to update its operating system so it can offer consumer-pleasing new tools, the new system is made available on any device Apple wants to support. In Apple’s world, Apple is the fox that owns the whole henhouse.
Google has not enjoyed such luxury. First, they have to enter a bunch of different hen houses. Entrance to each requires the participation of an independent device manufacturer. And the manufacturer needs to invest in a certain amount of code adjustments so the new OS will work on their devices. However, independent manufacturers profit significantly more from selling new devices than from upgrading operating systems. So their incentive to help Google into the henhouse is … low. While a majority of devices now support Jelly Bean, a substantial contingent (more than a quarter of Android devices in use) remain locked into supporting the “ancient” Ginger Bread OS, which is entirely too long in the tooth to support the hot new generation of tools that consumers demand.
In response, the trend for Google is to package new Android releases with less and less functionality baked into the core OS. Google has been public with its thinking that 4.4 should be slim in order to be compatible with older phones. Of course, a slimmer OS means that more and more functionality is offered in auxiliary Google apps and services that are accessible for upgrade directly from the source: Google. It’s a closer approximation of the Apple setup—where Google has more control post-install of the Android experience, which is incredibly important to the Google brand and long-term strategy. And users get a more continually fresh experience. No more being stuck with the “Browser” app from three years ago rife with glitches—expect Chrome bundled in the app and getting frequent updates with the latest features.
The grand strategy is to foster more and more direct contact with consumers, offering fresh Google products that on the one hand make users’ lives easier and on the other allow more information gathering, more targeted ad placement. And without being blocked from the henhouse by manufacturers who are unincentivized to make the OS upgrades required to support such features.
Cunning as a kit fox.