Will Moto Fracture the Android Market?

Posted by: Olga Kharif on October 07, 2009

On Oct. 6, Motorola introduced its so-called signature apps for its upcoming devices based on Android software for cell phones. Created by third-party developers including Accuweather, Comcast Entertainment Group and Barnes & Noble, the apps have been especially tailored to Moto devices’ menus. And they could offer a glimpse into a potential problem facing Android.

Moto’s signature apps foretell the beginning of a new trend, of handset makers encouraging developers to create Android apps specifically for their devices. Motorola, for instance, promises developers early access to its phones and software tools, and promotion in its ads. The idea is to encourage developers to create apps that work extremely well with Motorola’s new phones. But chances are, these apps won’t work so well on its rivals’ Android phones.

Here’s why that’s a problem: One idea behind Android Market was to create a single pool of apps that work on devices from all handset manufacturers, including Android pioneer HTC, Motorola and Samsung. This gave developers a chance to create one app that worked on millions of devices without having to be tweaked – which is what developers had to do in the past. In the past, third-party software makers have had to make hundreds of versions of the same application, and that made development extremely difficult and expensive. The Android initiative was to do away with that problem, and to help participating handset makers to better compete with Apple, which has been super-successful in luring developers to its iPhone.

Well, now it appears that the Android movement is fracturing. And that might make it less attractive to end users and developers alike. Developers may have to tweak their Android apps for them to work well on various makers’ phones. Users may have to sift through the Android Market searching for apps tailored specifically to their devices. That’s certainly not the end of the world: Sites like Handango.com offer apps for various handset models successfully. But that adds complexity to the process, and, in many ways, this defeats the purpose behind Android.

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Reader Comments

Ted

October 7, 2009 02:28 PM

Your missing the point.
Each manufacture has the ability to customize android how they see fit and this is how they do it. HTC already did this with the hero, there are many widgets that only work on the hero and are not available on the market. As long as the market has apps that work on all android devices i don't see the issue here.

nom

October 7, 2009 02:43 PM

this is precisely what the app market is for. you have to remember that google has specified the app market application as proprietary. this will act as google stamp of approval, much like you have computers that say windows-compatible and such. as a consumer, all i have to do is go to a carrier retail store and checkout myself if a phone has the market app built-in. sure there will be other app markets out there, but then again i don't really see it as a bad thing.

g2_ok

October 7, 2009 02:46 PM

fractured like Linux

Grant

October 7, 2009 02:55 PM

This article is way off. These apps are IN ADDITION to the ten thousand apps you can get through the Android Market. Maybe a little research and good old fashioned reporting would have helped you write a better article instead of assumptions and laziness.

Sena Gbeckor-Kove

October 8, 2009 05:07 AM

I think Olga is missing the point here. I wonder how much understanding she has of the platform.

jwk

October 8, 2009 02:58 PM

Duh. Didn't we see this coming from miles away? There no such thing as Android. There is android on HTC, android on HTC with a touch screen, android on HTC with a keyboard, Android on Motorola with a touch screen, Andriod on motorola with a hig resolution portrait touch screen, Android....

Windows took over the world because it succesfully separated the applications from the underlying hardware. Android is learning the same lesson as Linux - dozen's of incompatible versions don;t make things more consumer friendly (nerd friendly, sure!) they make it much, much worse.

Apple has three versions of the iphone and ONE app store they share.

next step: android forks!

aaron

October 8, 2009 06:28 PM

Don't miss the most popular & free "My Coupons" app for android:
http://www.android.com/market/free.html#app=mycoupons

JYawl

October 9, 2009 03:35 PM

Android is poised to be something phenomenal: the Windows of mobile smart handsets. One OS Kernel, one brand name. Having 'Android Inside' alone will sell handsets to those who want great smart phones.

The article is not about whether or not makers are tweaking Android or doing this or that to its skin. It's about creating a shell market inside the larger Android market, and the consequences of same. I do not buy software For Windows By Dell, I buy software for Windows--one word, one OS, one solution, no problems. The last thing the Android market needs is consumers hearing about a Great New Android App and then finding out that it can only be used on Samsung Android phones. In the larger scheme of things, that's bad for business.

Motorola's play is defensive and weak, and smacks of Verizon's attempt to own the customer by designing a second-string (third? fourth?) version of the internet--I'm talking about 'V-Cast'. At best, V-Cast is a pathetic attempt to corral Verizon subscribers into a sort of Internet Ghetto. While I appreciate Verizon's business strategy here, it's nothing that users actually want and is a step backward in mobile connectivity. (You could think of it as the equivalent of a CompuServe or AOL Community in pre-web days. Would you ever pay for that again?)

Ms. Kharif's reporting demonstrates perspicacity, not laziness. The promise of a Windows-of-the-smartphone-world is too big to be ignored. Handset makers that choose to go the defensive, restricted route will lose out as the most innovative small developers chose to forgo entirely developing for them and instead go on to chase the bigger pie. Motorola is just one of those second-tier suppliers that cannot afford to marginalise itself on an island of 'Moto Only' Android apps.

ScottO

November 4, 2009 08:01 AM

Haven't computer manufactures been doing the same thing for years? They all add their own software as an incentive to buy/keep buying for those that like it. For the rest of us we can vote with the delete key.

Eric

November 7, 2009 09:12 PM

@Jwk - The Android OS can be tailored to certain types of phones, yes... BUT all the android applications follow a standard SDK (dev kit) API (programming interface) which doesn't care what handset the OS is running on. Most of the OS level operations are hidden from the applications built by programmers. The applications dont care if there is a physical or a virtual keyboard... D-Pad or trackball... UP is UP.. DOWN is DOWN...etc...etc...

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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