Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) made a series of big announcements at its I/O Conference last week, which included new Android software for television, automobiles, and wearable devices. The biggest change to Android, however, may not have been the devices it'll run on or it's new design -- but rather that Google is taking Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) approach and tightening its grip on its operating system.
An open and shut OS
Google's engineering director, David Burke, told Ars Technica last week that device manufacturers won't have control over the interface of Android TV, Android Wear or Android Auto. This is a departure from the mobile version of Android, which has been very open to customization and adaptation by device makers.
Instead, Google plans to control how users experience the next wave of Android and is leaving it up to device makers and automotive companies to differentiate themselves with their own hardware and features.
Taking a page from Apple's playbook
Google built its massive mobile dominance by giving away its Android operating system for free and basically letting device makers do with it what they wanted. But over the past few years Google has started cracking down on Android's openness in order to control the user experience and software updates.
Apple's iOS typically enjoys fast upgrade cycles because the company controls both the hardware and the software. Google's open approach allowed Android to surpass Apple's OS market share quickly, but that created a fragmented platform which left many users with outdated software.
Tightening the reigns on Android a bit for Wear, TV and Auto, will keep Google from repeating the same mistake. This will bring a better overall experience to Android users and will allow Google to make the software updates it wants without being at the mercy of device makers. While some branding and services can be added to the new software, Google essentially controls the three new platforms.
Last week the company also announced Android One, which lays out specific hardware specifications for creating Android devices for developing markets. This move, along with the closed approach to Wear, TV and Auto, shows just how much the company has changed its approach to its software.
Why Apple should watch its back
As Google learns a few tricks from Apple, the iMaker should be a bit concerned. First off, as the Android One standards hit emerging markets, Google will likely take over new areas that Apple simply can't compete with. While Apple has once used the iPhone 4 to tap emerging markets, Android One specs can surpass Apple's older device and do so at a cheaper price. Add to that the fact that Google will update the devices regularly, and the iPhone will have an even harder time keeping up with the competition.
The real problem for Apple is that while Android is already the dominantly used OS throughout the world, the user experience is about to get even better. So not only do the majority of people already use Android, but they're about to use it now on their smartwatches, their televisions and in their cars, and the updates are going to come faster and better than ever before. Apple may have built its device sales on creating a simple and seamless experience for its users, but Google is about to do the same in new segments -- and that could be a very bad thing for Apple.