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How Google saved Android

Last week, I was contemplating writing an article on how the partnership between Microsoft and Nokia could take away a substantial margin of Android’s market share. Things change. Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility may have saved Android’s place as the top mobile OS in terms of global market share (keep reading). But make no mistake, it won’t be all smooth sailings for Android as it has been for the last 3 years – Windows Phone will take a significant chunk out of their users – and Google will have its first serious challenger (Blackberry withheld due to incompetence) outside of Cupertino.

Windows Phone 7 carries roughly 30,000 apps. Android is pushing 300,000 apps. The gap is staggering, but it is a well known secret that Android developers do not make the kind of money from their apps that they can and do in Apple’s App Store. Microsoft has achieved something that many didn’t think could be done – bring developers to a subpar OS. The 30K apps – all but 22% are paid apps — which developers released in the Windows Phone Marketplace are running on an OS that does not even have features that were included in Android and iOS devices two years ago. Mango, the major update for WP7 with over 500 new features, should bring the OS closer to the titans that are Android and iOS. When you include the collaboration with Nokia, a truly global smartphone maker with deep ties in Europe, Microsoft can and will lure the underpaid developers from Android, and iOS developers who would like a secondary option that will actually bring in profits.

Google’s major problem was dubbing Android an “open” OS, which isn’t really that open at all. Google controls source codes, places app restrictions in the Android Market (which they are free to do, as they control it), while carriers skin every device, and demand that you pay extra for services that come free naturally through the device (tethering, visual voicemail). Another symptom of the open OS is the completely ridiculous software update schedules from the Handset makers. The best features of the open OS comes into play for users when you see the abundance of free apps, widgets, and customizations that are possible Android may be great for consumers, but for the people who make the applications, it could be much better.

The purest and by far the best iteration of Android is the Nexus line. Timely updates, no carrier skins or bloatware, and sleek designs on par with the iPhone, show what Android can do when completed properly. The Nexus line, which Google controls from the design all the way until it is set to be released, creates a better experience for the user. With the purchase of Motorola Mobility, Google may have saved Android’s place in the long run.

After the purchase is completed, and the first Google/Motorola phone is released, all other device makers will have to step up or get left behind. Gone will be the days of updates six months after release. Fragmentation will decrease, as companies like HTC, Samsung, and LG will not want to be upstaged by Motorola’s release date updates that Google will most certainly employ. Much has been made of Larry Page’s statement about using purchase of Motorola to strengthen Google’s position in the patent fights with Microsoft and Apple, but the fervor over the patent lawsuits may be overblown. Android won’t be stopped or even significantly slowed down by the Microsoft/Apple conglomerate, or vice versa. But Google’s purchase of Motorola does send a statement to handset makers; get better, get faster, or get left behind.

You can follow Micah on Twitter @micahsingleton

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