Google seeks to unify Android with Silver

According to new reports, Google is developing a new version of its Android operating system for smart phone manufacturers that will put an emphasis on Google apps, called Android Silver.

Paul Sakuma/ AP Photo/ File
A Google sign at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. New reports say Google is developing a high-end, Google-oriented version of Android that will begin to unify the Android user experience.

Google is trying to iPhone-ify the Android smart phone, according to new reports.

Google is reportedly developing a new program called Android Silver that will create a unified, premium Android smart phone experience across several phone manufacturers. This is a bit of a change of pace for the tech company, which created the Android mobile operating system but sells only one smart phone itself, the Nexus, as Android has long been known for its more customizable operating system over a variety of carriers. What’s in it for Google, and what does it mean for the direction of the smart phone industry?

Android Silver is an operating system change, as well as a marketing and branding change, according to reports. Google is partnering with phone makers to use a specific version of the Android operating system, Android Silver, which will limit the amount of non-Google apps that the phone can support and offer more options for users to delete non-Google apps. Google hopes this will cut down on the vast array of manufacturer-specific custom apps that come with the many different phones that run Android, to create a more singular Android identity that mimics what we’ve seen on Nexus phones (as well as Apple's iPhone).

"Android Silver is more of a revamp of the Nexus program than it is about Google trying to exert more control over the Android ecosystem it's had a large hand in creating,” says Jack Narcotta, an analyst at TBRI, to Computerworld. “Nexus devices are great and they represent what Android can be when mobile devices aren't saddled with bloatware…Android is too much in the background today and for Google, that's a problem, especially when it's clearly trying to establish Android as its own brand.”

However, it is more about creating a unifying premium version of Android than bringing together the various Android players, reports say. Google will likely choose five phones at a time to brand with Android Silver, and set up specific marketing booths in retail stores. The custom versions of Android will still be present for the majority of Android customers, and in emerging markets where Android has been especially popular. It isn’t clear yet which smart phone makers will be a part of Android Silver, but there has been speculation about Samsung and Lenovo, as well as smaller manufacturers, which would benefit from having Google’s support.

So what is happening to Google’s Nexus smart phone line in light of all this? Most believe this spells the beginning of the end for the Nexus, though it did serve as inspiration for Android Silver. As it was made by Google, it offered the purest example of what a totally Google-ified smart phone could look like, which granted it rave reviews though not as much commercial success as Google would have liked.

With Android Silver, however, Google can further extend its control over the Android market by encouraging more smart phone makers to come under its wing. This gets at Google’s larger business model: get customer information in order to gain advertising revenue and more products that people need.

"To get this rich, contextual information, Google needs consumers to use their branded services like Search, Maps, Play, Contacts, Calendar, Chrome, Gmail and more," says Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, to Computerworld. "Android Silver is an attempt to get more high-end phones to lead with Google services and provide an alternative to Samsung. Google is concerned that Samsung has such a lead at the high end Android market that Google needs a more level playing field or it will lose control."

So far the information on Android Silver is coming from leaked documents and unnamed sources, so more specific details will likely be coming to light soon as Google decides to roll this out publicly.

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