There has been a big brouhaha on the web today as Google has reportedly delayed the release of the source code for their tablet-optimized version of Android; Honeycomb. Some people are mocking the Goog's openness, but I'm wondering if this could be a result of what companies have done with the previous versions of Android, as well as Amazon's recent positioning in the field.
With the tablet market heating up, Google may be trying to reign in a bit more control over what types of devices are released to market. The company to beat right now is Apple, and their iPad is universally recognized as being the device to beat. Almost every Android-based tablet that has been released over the last few years has been a miserable failure, gaining about as much traction as Microsoft's attempts since Bill Gates showed off a bulky "convertible notebook" that would double as a tablet when the monitor was swiveled around. This wasn't for lack of trying, though, as manufacturers tried in vain to make the mobile phone operating system work on devices with much larger screen sizes and many different hardware configurations. Google had said repeatedly that the Android 1.x and 2.x lines were not designed to be used with tablets, but this didn't make much difference. Companies such as Archos, Sharp, Samsung, and an innumerable number of Chinese and Taiwanese knock-off OEMs put out products of varying quality for consumers to snap up. What was the result?
It wasn't good for Android, and it wasn't good for Google.
Honeycomb, Android's 3.0 release, is supposed to be the penultimate Android experience. This is what Google has been working up to for years, and consumers will now be able to walk around with powerful connected tablet computers enabling anyone to work, play, and stay informed from anywhere on the planet. This is the epitome of what Google wants to do: organize the world's data, and make it easily available in a single cohesive location. Android on a tablet can do this, but not if manufacturers are going to rush out poorly implemented devices for the sake of surfing on the platform's popularity. Such an action would make Android look like Windows Mobile 6, and drive consumers into the waiting arms of Apple.
Google needs to maintain control for the next little bit in order to ensure only the best experience is had, "openness" can wait.
In addition to Google's desire to ensure a premium experience on their tablets, they need to ward off a potential attack on their bottom line from a powerful rival: Amazon.
With Amazon's recent release of their Android Appstore, Google stands to lose a great deal of money on their platform. Amazon has a huge customer base numbering in the millions, which means millions of credit card numbers and excessive amounts of customer information. If Amazon were to deeply integrate their Appstore and Kindle platforms into Android, Google's revenues would be marginalized. In-app advertisements are nothing compared to the gravy train that is mobile applications. Google's not stupid, nor is Amazon ... these two are gearing up for a battle on the tablet front, and there can be only one true winner.
Will Amazon release a new tablet running Android 3.0 with deep integration into their easy to use platform? We'll have to wait and see ... but Google will fight it tooth and nail before giving in and allowing a mobile operating system they created earn a competing company massive profits.
The next twelve to eighteen months are going to be crucial in the tablet market with OEMs and developers vying for consumer dollars, and a cohesive and attractive experience is what's needed. Apple has been grooming customers for almost a decade, and it shows in devices running iOS. Google is at a disadvantage here, with people being accustomed to a textbox followed by a search button, but they're not out of the game by any stretch of the imagination. If the Android team can keep their tablet OS closed for the time being and work closely with select manufacturers to provide a beautiful experience on a quality tablet, they may just win a lot of people to their platform. The one thing Google doesn't have, though, is time.