Forked Android devices on the rise: Should Google be worried?

As can be viewed from a new report by Strategy Analytics, the Google-owned operating system viz. the Android has a global market share of about 85 percent; meaning that nearly nine in every ten phones shipped are based on Android. So, saying that Android literally rules the world’s smartphone market, would not be wrong.

Although, this domination is prodigious, the company is facing a rising issue of non-Google Android.


The Two Flavors of Android

Actually, Android is available in two different forms. First one is the Google-endorsed Android, which is being used by those companies that accept the terms and conditions of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA). In this case, the OHA members accept to include the Google services that come with this version, and agree to the constraints on the customization of software on their devices.

The second one is the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which is a far-freer version that allows the device manufacturers to make all sorts of changes to the software. This often means tearing out Google services, and at the same time, customizing the device to run other software and services. Google apps are still accessible, but they don’t form the centre of experience as in the case of OHA devices.

The main concern of Google is around the fact that AOSP devices don’t give emphasis to Google services and since Google is not a core hardware company, having its services central to Android is the best way to get revenue from mobile device owners.

Forked Android

Forked Android is not a new concept. Amazon has been modifying AOSP for its Kindle tablets, and now its mobile phones too, for some time. It is swapping out the standard Google Android services and features for its own application store, design and other features. The same is common for cheap devices being manufactured in China.

The rate of AOSP phones is growing. A new report from ABI Research shows that 20% of the smartphones sold worldwide in the period of May to July were built on AOSP.

Nick Spencer:
“AOSP’s growth is driven by the development of Chinese and Indian handset manufacturers, not only in their domestic markets, but increasingly throughout Asia and beyond.”

Spencer further revealed that the rise of mobile markets in Asia is reportedly fueling the increased importance of AOSP. The report by ABI Research claims that Chinese and Indian mobile manufacturers accounted for a majority 51% share of global shipments for the first time in the last quarter. So, while the rate of AOSP phone is growing largely, the effects are more visible in Asia instead of the US or Europe.

Targeting AOSP Devices in developing markets

AOSP devices are usually marketed at a low price as the open-sourced version provides a cost effective platform to develop a smartphone. While this section of customers does not spend huge amounts, it is significant as it represents many first-time smartphone users plus new internet users who are not that exposed to Google services.

Although the main focus of AOSP devices is developing markets of course, more sophisticated ones like Xiaomi are now opening up non-Google Android to a new segment of more-premium customers. This Chinese company shipped more mobile phones in China than Samsung in the second quarter of 2014, as shown in a recent report.

Is Google threatened?

Google is aware of the threat and its clear response is Android One, a new standard for cheap Android devices which obviously has its services embedded in it. Android One is particularly targeted at creating sub-$100 mobile phones for emerging markets, where AOSP-based devices are dominant.


Google claims that Android One will give a more unified Android experience to the end user that is free from manufacturer’s own skins, with only a few pre-installed applications and more timely software updates. As such, the software will be plain Android, but will include the option for original equipment manufacturers to make local modifications to the software.

Till now, the AOSP syndrome was limited to the emerging markets, but with the expanse of Xiaomi, OnePlus, Oppo, Meizu and many others, the things are changing at a really fast pace.