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Google Inc (GOOG) Need Not Fear Losing Control of Android

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There’s been a common theme running through various tech blogs in recent months: Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) is losing control of Android! But those fears are overblown. Despite the fact that Android is an open source operating system, and is thus susceptible to “forking,” most attempts at hijacking Android have failed, and consumers increasingly appear to prefer pure Android over heavily modified alternatives.

Google Inc (GOOG)

“Google is losing control of Android”

A number of different outlets have presented various versions of this claim in recent months.

Some, like The Wall Street Journal, argue that Samsung’s dominance of Android has left Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) vulnerable and scared, fearful that the Korean tech giant could one day eat into Google’ mobile ad business.

Others, like techradar, have noted that Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) Home is a direct attempt by the social network to take control of Android devices.

Motley Fool’s own Evan Niu has even written about it. He remarks that, Inc. (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU) has taken advantage of Android in China, while, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) has cut the Google Play store out of its popular lineup of Kindle Fire tablets.

While all of these claims are true, they are increasingly irrelevant to the larger Android story.

Samsung and Android

First, let’s consider Samsung. The company has yet to force Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) out of its popular Galaxy devices, but the building blocks are there. Samsung has its own app store (a possible replacement to Google Play) and a deal with Dropbox (to replace Google Docs).

But as a user of a Galaxy Note 2, I can personally testify to the weakness of Samsung’s app store. What’s more, unless it offered great, exclusive apps, I would never use it in place of Google Play — one of the reasons I like the Android ecosystem is that I’m free to switch to a different hardware manufacturer down the road.

Moreover, Samsung’s dominance of Android could soon come to an end. HTC’s One has gotten rave reviews, while Motorola is preparing to launch a radical new Android smartphone later this year.

In fact, Samsung has partnered with Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) to release a version of the Galaxy S4 with stock Android — an S4 that strips out Samsung’s software entirely. If Samsung was planning to stab Google in the back, the release of such a phone seems odd. And, even if they did, rival Android hardware makers could steal Samsung’s customers.

Facebook Home

It’s pretty clear at this point that Facebook Home has been a disaster. The HTC First, the Android phone with Facebook Home built in, has already been discontinued according to BGR, after just a few weeks on the market.

Despite the fact that many people have downloaded Facebook Home, the vast majority of reviewers on Google Play have given it only a single star, the lowest possible score. TechCrunch has already written a piece on why the app has failed.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)’s Chief Operating Officer, explained that users generally have a “love it or hate it” response to Home, and that while many people despise the fact that it takes over the phone, for Facebook addicts, it’s a great product.

No doubt Facebook will continue to tweak Home in the coming months, working to improve the software. But at any rate, it’s pretty clear that Facebook Home does not represent a real threat to Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s control of Android.

Baidu and Amazon, Inc. (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU), often seen as the “Google of China,” has used Android to its advantage, completely forking the operating system and inserting its own services in place of Google’s. Moreover, a large percentage of China’s smartphone users are on this modified version of Android.

Here’s the thing: that doesn’t matter. Google effectively pulled out of China three years ago, citing issues with the Chinese government’s demand for censorship. From Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s perspective, Chinese Android users might as well be living on Mars — they were never going to be customers.

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