Does Android fragmentation matter to Google? Not much.

Clearly, Android fragmentation affects users and developers. It makes it more expensive and less profitable to develop for Android, while users get inconsistent and unpredictable experiences and have access to fewer high-quality apps. Moreover Android devices may not even have Google services such as Maps or Gmail embedded on the device when a consumer buys it, while new versions of the software with prized new features Googlers have slaved over do not make their way to many users. Ice Cream Sandwich will not be on the majority of Android devices sold until at least the second half of 2012. All of this has been discussed to death. 

However, Google’s objectives for Android are not directly affected by any of this. Google wants:

  • To ensure that as many people as possible have access to the entire web on mobile devices
  • To make sure there is not a dominant mobile platform (originally the fear was Microsoft, then Apple) that can block Google services on mobile

In other words, Google’s priorities for its mobile OS are not what Microsoft’s or Apple’s would be. Google wants more people using the web, because web use means web search and search advertising revenue.

All else is secondary. Even the most fragmented, forked, customised and mangled ‘Android’ device has an open web browser and data connectivity and can drive mobile use of Google Search. Indeed, saying that an Android device like the Kindle Fire ‘has no Google services’ might be true in one sense but misses the underlying point – the browser itself is by far the most important Google Service on any device. 

Meanwhile iOS & Android combined now have an active base of over 500m - all with a browser and most with a reasonably generous mobile data bundle. This is 500m mobile AdSense eyeballs. It really doesn’t matter much to Google exactly what the split is: indeed given that iOS users have significantly higher mobile web use, and hence generate more mobile ad impressions, it is almost certainly the case today that an iOS user is more profitable for Google than an Android user.

If it doesn’t matter much if an Adsense impression is on iOS or Android, it certainly doesn’t matter if it is on Android 2.2 or Android 4. 

Of course, if it wasn’t for the fact that we know Google isn’t evil, I could point to another reason why Google might be unconcerned by fragmentation: it has the effect of reducing app use, and app use cannibalises web use and web search. In other words, Google’s strategic objective is for there to be as few smartphone apps as possible, even on Android, and fragmentation has precisely that effect. 

This discussion is taken from a report I wrote for Enders Analysis this week