Rise of forked Android sticks knife into Google

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Google’s dominance of smartphone market under threat by growth of unofficial Android handsets

Android sits  atop the smartphone market, with the Google-owned operating system believed to be on around 85 per cent of handsets globally, but the rise of forked versions of the OS has became a major worry for the search engine giant.

Normally, an Android phone comes with default Google software, such as Google Maps, Search and Gmail. Forked Android systems are modified versions of the operating system with all of these integrated Google services removed.

Examples of forked services already available in the UK include the Amazon Kindle Fire, which offers an Amazon app store instead of the standard Google Play Store.

Forked software is a major threat to Google, who make no money from handset sales, instead generating revenue from advertising and use of their services. With these services removed, they are essentially giving up their software for free.

Figures from ABI Research show that the number of smartphones shipped with a forked version of Android grew 20 per cent sequentially in quarter two of 2014. This compares with just three per cent overall market growth in that time.

This means that the open source system now accounts for 20 per cent of all handsets, according to ABI’s results, with over 278 million Android smartphones (forked and non-forked) shipped worldwide between April and June this year.

ABI Research’s senior practice director, mobile devices, Nick Spencer said: “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.”

“Chinese and Indian vendors accounted for the majority of smartphone shipments for the first time with 51% share. While many of these manufacturers are low cost, some are making inroads in the mid-tier, including Xiaomi and Gionee, hence the growing challenge to Samsung in particular.”

A high number of the devices are based in emerging markets where the savings made from not being a part of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), which gives you access to the official, Google endorsed version of Android, are often put towards making devices cheaper.

Guillermo Escofet, senior analyst at Ovum, pointed to the difficult relationship between Google and the Chinese government as one reason for Google’s problems with forked handsets in the Far-East.

Escofet says his research shows that despite Android being the dominant operating system in the Chinese market, around 80 per cent of handsets there are forked.

He said: “Google Play exists but it’s not enabled for payments. Google has an awkward relationship in China because it refused to agree to censorship demands by the government there.

“Google only has a half presence there so most apps developers or publishers don’t rely on it for apps.”

Ovum figures show that Google generated around £4.2 billion from the Play Store in 2013, with the figure rising year-on-year. As the number of forked handsets grows, there could potentially be a large cut in to Google’s profits.

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