Android and Google and Branding

If you are a marketing person and you haven’t been following what Google is doing with Android, you should be because it’s fascinating stuff.

Android is a mobile operating system that was developed by the company of the same name, acquired by Google, and is now an open source project developed by a The Open Handset Alliance, a multinational alliance of technology and mobile industry leaders including Google, Motorola, Samsung, Sprint, HTC and around 40 others.  The stated goal of the Alliance is to create “greater openness in the mobile ecosystem”, allowing the industry to “innovate more rapidly and respond better to consumers’ demands.”

There are currently more than 20 different devices that run Android including the new flagship devices from Motorola and Samsung.  There is a Google-controlled Android Marketplace with over 10,000 applications that run on the OS.  Because the code is open source, handset manufacturers are free to extend it to support any hardware they like which means you can have phones with both touch screens and keyboards and screens with various resolutions.  Android also lets you have multiple applications running simultaneously (something Blackberries have done forever but iPhones cannot do).  On the surface, smart phones running Android offer compelling advantages over the iPhone and Blackberry where customers can get the best of both worlds in terms of a touch screen, a hard keyboard, a pile of interesting applications, a choice of carriers, etc.

Oh but there are devilish details……

First of all, not all Android devices are created equal.  There are now 3 different releases of the OS installed on phones being sold today.  There are also hardware differences, firmware differences and custom code on each device.  The result is that a developer who builds an application for Android has no guarantee that it will run on all Android devices.  For developers, this makes the market for an application potentially smaller, for customers, there is confusion when they purchase an application around whether or not it will run.  This so-called “splintering” of Android is bound to confuse customers and is causing some application developers to scale back investments in the Android platform.  From a market development perspective, these are serious issues.  Google needs a thriving developer community if it wants to have the Android Market stand up against the Apple Application Store.  Of course Google has the Google application set which are arguably the most compelling applications for an Android device.

This brings me to the issue of Google branding.  Even though I still hear people refer to “Google Android”, the Adroid brand is not a Google brand, it now belongs to the Open Handset Alliance.  There are in essence 3 versions of Android devices on the market:

  1. Android – Any device manufacturer can download Android and develop with it with no formal agreement with Google and no Google applications pre-installed on the phone.
  2. Android with a Google Distribution agreement – manufacturers agree to sign a distribution agreement with Google which allows them to ship their devices with the Google application set pre-installed.
  3. Android with “The Google Experience” – Here the manufacturers gets to pre-install the Google applications and also gets to include a Google logo on the phone itself.  In exchange for this the carrier and the manufacturer agree not to remove the applications from the phone and also agree not to censor applications in the Android Market.

The different levels are interesting from a Google branding perspective.  First of all, as much as Android is “open”, manufacturers are not going to be able to ship the Google applications with their devices without some sort of agreement with Google.  Developers who want to sell their applications in the Android Market need to comply with the Android Market Developer distribution agreement and pay a 30% transaction fee.  Google is also taking Apple’s practice of (often seemingly arbitrary) censorship of what applications get to be included in the Apple App Store head-on by offering up the Google logo in exchange for a promise not to censor.

So what does this mean from a branding perspective?  In my opinion Android as a brand is going to move farther and farther away from the Google brand.  It’s an advanced operating system but that’s it.  There’s no guarantee that the Google apps are there, or that the full Application Market is available.

A device with a Google logo on it, on the other hand, has all of the above.  If you want a the Google apps pre-installed, and the complete Android Market, you want to look for that logo.  Consumers, in my opinion, will differentiate strongly between Google branded phones and generic Android phones.

Are there risks in doing that for Google?  The biggest is probably that those phones will be the choice of people who want to get access to pornographic or other offensive applications (the horrifying Baby Shaker iPhone application comes to mind).  Could that tarnish the Google brand?  Personally I think the risk is small given that Google has complete control over the Market.  If a serious problem did arise, they could easily react to it.  At the same time, brand associations, once formed are hard to shake (pardon the pun).

I’m positive that case studies will be written on what Google is orchestrating right now.  I’m just not sure if they will be positive or negative.  Either way, it’s interesting to watch.

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22 thoughts on “Android and Google and Branding”

  1. Pingback: Mark Harai

  2. Great analysis, but let’s face it – when it comes to brand, Google has a long way to go toward matching what Apple has in the eyes of consumers, particularly for mobile phones and devices. I think you’re right that Google needs to lean hard on the applications to help them get there but this is going to be a long slow road for them against Apple.
    Randy

  3. Don’t you think the people might get confused about what it means to have a google logo on the phone? Before reading this, I assumed that all Android phones had the google apps. I think this branding is going to be confusing.

  4. Hi Randy,
    Thanks for the comment and I totally agree that Google and Android are just getting started. The iPhone has incredible momentum in the market. Catching up to that is going to be a long process.
    Thanks again.
    April

  5. Hi Jenny,
    Thanks for the comment.
    I think it is confusing right now but I think it is going to get much clearer as we move along. I think that there will start to be a clear preference among handset providers for a couple of the 3 options I outlined above and it will become clearer what you get when you buy an Android phone. Until then, I agree, it’s pretty confusing.
    April

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  9. Hi April,
    Great, informative post! The thing with the Google brand, I guess, is that it is synonomous for so many with Search. Apple had a gentler leap in to mobile owing to already selling hardware. I kind of expect that some people will just think, “Google phone, great, search on the move 🙂 – or something.” I’d like to see Android used as the brand – it’s cleaner, somehow, and will not have the clutter associated with it that Google will have…and I think it has more chance of clarifying the great advantages of an ‘Android’ device.
    Really interesting…thanks!
    Carl

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  11. Hi Carl,
    Thanks for the comment. You are right that Apple is already known as a hardware brand so the move into phones was easier for them. Google has the apps but you don’t think of them as “mobile” and you’re exactly right that people will think Google=search first and foremost. It will be interesting to watch.
    I like “Android” but my experience is that building a brand from scratch is much more difficult than working with an existing brand. Without a concerted effort, the Android brand will wither – and is a multi-company alliance going to invest in branding? I think Google is the brand that people know and for better or worse, I have a feeling we will see less and less of Android and more and more “Google phones”.
    April

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  13. April,
    Hmm, so just why is Google spending the time and energy on this new area? One clever thought is that sure they’d like to get more of the mobile search market, but maybe just as important is that they want Apple to sell fewer phones.
    In the U.S., there’s only one network to run an iPhone on and so there’s a near monopoly on what subscribers are paying to use the things. Google and Apple are more and more looking like competitors.
    By providing a mobile OS that runs on multiple networks Google sets up an opportunity that every time someone buys an Android phone, that takes $$$ out of Apple’s pocket. A nice added bonus or the real reason for Android?
    – Dr. Jim Anderson
    The Accidental Product Manager Blog
    http://www.TheAccidentalPM.com/
    Free 30-Page Product Manger Career Guide (and MP3) When You Subscribe to the Newsletter:
    http://www.theaccidentalpm.com/subscribe-to-the-accidental-product-manager-newsletter

  14. Hi Jim,
    It’s clear that smart phones are becoming more of a mobile compute platform than simply a phone and so mobile search, apps and ultimately advertising are important for Google’s future in the same way netbooks are. The smart phone is a platform that they cannot ignore.
    As for the exclusive deal that AT&T currently has with the iPhone, I don’t believe that will last forever (the chatter now is that it will end in 2010 but it’s anyone’s guess right now). Regardless, the iPhone is the threat because of the tight integration of the platform with Apple’s browser and the control that Apple has over iPhone apps. They clearly compete and if you believe that the smart phone will be the primary computing device of the future, it makes sense that Google make a major play to influence what those devices look like in the future.
    Thanks for the comment.
    April

  15. April,
    I think this is Google trying to get ownership and standardizing the application environment and the user experience. Google wants to control everything above the hardware level and wants the carriers to support this effort. The Google logo is the bait. It’s a classic Gorilla move and will likely work.

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