Google Wants One Android, but It Needs Help -- and It Plays Badly with Others

Last Updated May 10, 2011 5:49 PM EDT

Google (GOOG) has a fragmentation problem with Android, an issue that will only get worse because the company wants its software on any bit of electronics that can't scioot away fast enough. That's why Google announced at its Google I/O event that it would to merge the tablet and smartphone versions of Android in its next release, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich.

Google really wants to do much more and extend the reach of Android beyond mobile, including appliances and other devices in the home. But the company has been ham-handed when it comes to dealing with other companies, whether large or small. Unless management can change that characteristic, Google won't be able to unify Android because no one will trust the search giant.

It's everywhere, it's everywhere
CEO Larry Page dreams of a world that runs on Android (well, other than netbooks that run Chrome OS, as Google's other operating system is apparently ready to debut for real). A newly-announced focus on home automation sounds like Apple's (AAPL) strategy for iOS or Microsoft's (MSFT) attempt to run all entertainment through an Xbox.

Google wants the same thing as every other operating system vendor wants, including Microsoft, Apple, HP (HPQ), and RIM: ubiquity. There are only so many smartphones or PCs or set-top boxes or toaster ovens that companies can sell.

The number can still be outrageously high. Google says that there have been 100 million activated Android devices so far, and that the company sees 400,000 new Android devices activated every day. That's 36.5 million a quarter. For comparison, last quarter, Apple sold 18.6 million iPhones and 4.7 million iPads last quarter. (There's no way to tell how many iPods were the touch model that runs iOS.)

Still, no market is infinitely large. Even inordinately high volume and revenue at the start eventually give way to the dynamics of a mature market. And yet, executives want to satisfy investor hunger for unceasing growth -- to maintain stock prices and their own compensation. Hence, the need to expand to other devices.

They'll do it ourrrrr wayyyyy
But Android has some big problems. Fragmentation of the operating system into multiple concurrently existing versions causes problems for developers, and for users, as well. Who wants to play matchmaker between app and Android variations to find what might work (or not)? Google has tried to deny the fragmentation problem, but that was no more effective than Seattle declaring itself to be the sunniest city in the U.S. Even now, Android 2.3 Gingerbread isn't available for most Android handsets.

For Google is to realize virtual world dominion, it needs control over its scattered children. But that requires convincing vendors and developers go along, and there's the biggest problem, given the oafish way the company has begun. Allegedly, Google has been bullying Android developers and hardware vendors.

If true, the approach would hardly be surprising. As BNET's Damon Brown points out, Google is terrible at negotiating with companies and has tried to do what it wants, no matter who had legal rights to tell it no.

Unfortunately for management at the company, the approach has stopped working (if, indeed, it ever did). Google's attitude has helped turn Android into a fertile field for growing patent infringement lawsuits. It has sidelined Google TV. And if Google doesn't learn to get along with others, it will eventually hand its mobile operating system leadership to someone else.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.