Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

Summary: Android will be virtualized and productized as such on smartphones and tablets in 2012. You can bet on it.


Almost a year ago I wrote a piece entitled "Android Virtualization: It's Time."

The piece was a reaction to a rant from our new Mobile News columnist, James Kendrick that Android updates were taking way too long and that the process was inherently flawed because too many cooks were actually involved in the process: Google itself, the handset manufacturers and also the carriers.

The problem continued to be a serious one for Android throughout 2011, and at one point Google actually pledged with its handset manufacturers to actually do something about it, with a newly formed Android Update Alliance that was announced at Google IO back in May.

Six months after that alliance was formed, absolutely no progress has been made, and many in the industry believe that the idea to try to coordinate Android software updates on phones was doomed from its inception.

Also Read:

Android fragmentation and update lag is a very real problem. It undermines consumer as well as developer confidence in the long-term sustainability of the platform, this despite the fact that Android now occupies the lion's share of the smartphone market.

Most of this lion's share that Android has attained has been gained at the expense of Research in Motion's BlackBerry which has been losing more and more market share every successive quarter due to lack of viable alternatives to both Android handsets as well as Apple's iPhone.

If this Android fragmentation and update problem is left unchecked, it could ultimately result in customers defecting from the platform and pursuing other options, such as as the iPhone as well as even Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 offering, both of which do not have these types of problems.

Why don't they have these problems? The answer is simple. In the case of both iOS and Windows Phone 7, both Apple and Microsoft have full control over their platforms.

Apple has complete vertical integration of the OS and the hardware. It also has a proven track record of updating the operating system on its products long after their sales cycles have completed.

Microsoft, while a relative newcomer to the smartphone scene, has done a good job at keeping its OEMs adhere to a reference platform to minimize hardware/software integration issues during product development and allows very minimal branding and value-added customization on the carrier side.

So far, Microsoft has rolled out its "Mango" update to its existing base of Windows Phones across all carriers and manufacturers. While Microsoft does not have the diversity of hardware that Android has with its smartphones, its ability to coordinate updates across the Windows Phone 7 products should not be discounted.

In contrast to both Apple and Microsoft, Google hasn't even managed to get version 2.3 "Gingerbread", the previous stable smartphone version of Android rolled out to all phones that were released in the last two years.

And it seems that even fairly recent devices might not get the latest Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" either, although it looks like OEMs like Samsung may have to capitulate on this issue despite the real possibility that the update might not be able to accomodate their "value add" software modifications on some of their models such as the Galaxy S line due to a lack of onboard memory.

So how does Google get out of this mess?

Well, the first answer is to do the unthinkable -- throw all the OEMs under the bus, and essentially go the Apple route. In this scenario, I see Motorola becoming the "most favored nation" for Android device manufacturing and only "Google Experience" devices being produced.

This still leaves room for pollution of the devices at the individual carriers themselves, but it's one less weak link in the chain, which is the OEM.

But this is a highly unrealistic scenario and I truly doubt Google would ever go that route, and for two reasons. The first is that the completion of Motorola acquisition is anything but a sure thing, and the second that there is no way Google actually believes it can truly maintain its market share with just a single manufacturer.

I think that we have to be prepared for a small, although very real possibility that the Motorola acquisition might not go through, in which case Google needs a plan B. Even assuming it does complete successfully, I don't think Google can actually write off Samsung, LG, HTC, ZTE and any number of other Android handset and tablet manufacturers and expect their ecosystem to sustain itself.

The actual solution to the Android update problem has been materializing in the background for the last two years and will almost certainly show its face sometime in productized form in 2012. And that's Android Virtualization.

In my previous article I discussed what benefits virtualizing the Android software stack and OS would bring to the table, and I talked about what vendors existed at the time which were working on products.

There are four companies and embedded hypervisors that I believe merit watching in this space: VMWare's mobile virtualization platform, Open Kernel Labs OKL4, Red Bend Software VLX and Intel's Wind River.

The last two I think have the most potential for causing disruptive activity and becoming the dominant leaders in device virtualization, although I also happen to think that both Open Kernel Labs and Red Bend should be considered prime acquisition targets by Google and also the various mobile semiconductor companies.

Red Bend merits considerable attention because it already has a large presence at the carriers themselves -- it's the dominant player in the space of provisioning and deploying Over The Air (OTA) software updates. Over one billion devices are managed by their provisioning solution at carriers worldwide.

In mid-2012, the company is expected to roll out the combination of its VLX mobile hypervisor along with a enterprise provisioning solution for Android and offer it as a packaged Software as a Service at various wireless carriers.

Initially, the solution will be targeted towards deploying secure corporate "Softphones" fo BYO enterprise device scenarios, but it could just as easily be used by a carrier to quickly deploy Android OS updates across a wide spectrum of devices which it could sell that support Red Bend's VLX as well.

I've actually seen Red Bend's VLX and provisioning combination in beta form and to say that I am extremely impressed with what the technology can do is an understatement. It will do for the wireless industry what Virtualization has done for the Datacenter and enterprise computing, which is to say it will be a game-changer.

Intel also merits a significant amount of attention in mobile virtualization in 2012.

While I am still dubious that x86 architecture will prove to be a long-term valid system for smartphones and tablets (as opposed to the ARM architecture which is enjoying complete dominance of the space right now) it could be argued that Intel's 32-nanometer "Medfield" has an inherent advantage that Samsung's, Texas Instruments', Qualcomm's and nVidia's ARM chips do not.

Which is?

Intel is currently the only player currently which owns a smartphone/tablet semiconductor SoC platform as well as a mobile hypervisor for it to run on, in the form of Wind River's multicore platform.

Also Read: Wind River, Tasty Embedded Linux Treat

Intel, along with OEM handset partner LG, is expected to unveil an x86-based "Medfield" Android phone at CES on January 10. And if my suspicions are correct, it will also be the first Android smartphone reference platform to be virtualized from the ground up.

If Intel makes virtualization a key selling point of Medfield, then all bets are off. It would allow handset and tablet OEMs using that platform to very quickly deploy products and OS updates because along with the Medfield chip, the Wind River Linux platform also encompasses a full embedded Android software development and testing environment, something that even Google itself or even in combination with its other semiconductor partners cannot offer.

The next few weeks and months are going to bear watching. But one thing is clear: Android will be virtualized and productized as such on smartphones and tablets in 2012. You can bet on it.

Will 2012 bee the year that Android gets Virtual? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Storage, Android, CXO, Cloud, Google, Hardware, Virtualization


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

    "Android fragmentation and update lag is a very real problem." Says Zdnet.<br><br>That argument is so last year. Let it rest.
    • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

      @Return_of_the_jedi - I agree. As a user all I care is if the software I use is supported. May I remind everyone about Windows 95 and Windows NT? Or Windows XP later? If you wanted it, you bought a new PC. <br><br>Or with iPhone or iPhone 3G? And why are we using Apple's "sales" cycle? Cause the "sales" cycle has nothing to do with it. Yes, they are keeping each version of iPhone to 2 OS updates, but so does Google. And even most of Apple's updates are bastardized. The iPhone3G and 3GS received iOS4 but it had major features missing not to mention huge bugs and problems. And even with iOS 5, four out of 5 versions of iPhones out there (97% of all iPhones out there), are missing the biggest feature of iOS5 which is Siri. Even iPhones that people bought 4 months ago. And not only that but 3 months after iOS5 became available, more than 63% of iPhone3GS and iPhone4 are still running iOS3 or iOS4. And Apple controls everything. I mean everything. Hardware, software, OS. Everything. Yet they have fragmentation. But what does that mean?? Can the users still using iPhone3G and iOS3 make calls, access the browser and internet, play games, listen to music, download apps?? Of course they can. They can still use their phone to be productive. <br><br>And so can Android phones. 98% run 2.1+. They can makes calls, access the internet and browser, even run Flash which all iPhones can NOT do, play music, play videos, and play apps. And most of the 500,000 apps in the android market are 2.1+ compatible... and that means they will run on 98% of the Android phones out there.<br><br>On top of that, unlike iPhones who are stuck with Apple telling them what they can and can not do, Android phones have AOSP or the Android Open Source Project. If you head over to CyanogenMod page, they have a bazzilion phones running the latest OS. And in a few weeks they would have a bazzillion more running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sanswitch. For Apple iPhones like the 3G, you are out of luck. Not so with Android phones. So fragmentation IMO is not a problem and is way overrated. <br><br>Having said all that, virtualization will be a welcome feature. Not for fragmentation. But for having multiple user account on Tablets or separating Business and Personal on your phone. So I'm all for virtualization but for the reason you stated.
      • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization


        Nice rant, but that doesn't resolve the issue of carriers, and OEM's failing to update their flagship phones.

        You go on about PC's and XP. Well Microsoft learned that lesson with Vista, whereby PC's were sold running XP, then couldn't run Vista, despite them being sold right up to the release of Vista.

        It also learned not to make Win7 bigger, instead, make it smaller.

        Perhaps people don't care when they buy a phone what version of the OS it is, but I can tell you this, they will be pissed when a friend says there phone has been updated and there's hasn't and there is only 4 months between the phones.

        Or, a security issue that wasn't patched, because no-one is updating the OS is discovered and costs a group of people large amounts of cash due to premium numbers, texts. Oh, once that happens (and it will), you will see a class action suit on carriers, OEMs, and Googles for NOT updating their phones.
      • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

        "they will be pissed when a friend says there phone has been updated and there's hasn't"

        That may be, but to be honest, if you buy a phone which doesn't do what you need, 4 months before the one you actually think you need comes out, then you:

        1) didn't research properly
        2) bought the wrong phone
        3) just have to have the latest whether you need it or not
        4) are too immature to exercise enough self control to wait
        5) are completely stupid

        .... it is a common problem with our culture these days. A sense of ENTITLEMENT which DEMANDS that you blame the 'other guy' even if you made the mistake. Bottom line - unless the update was promised when you bought the phone, you have no basis to expect an update.
      • Updates vs. upgrades: Security should win

        @Bozzer wrote:
        "Or, a security issue that wasn't patched, because no-one is updating the OS is discovered and costs a group of people large amounts of cash ...

        THIS! Mobile phone users are, increasingly, using their devices for online banking, trading, etc. Thus far, the miscreants have been satisfied with the ease of getting their malware into the Android market, as apps. In this way, the Android Market has been operating as a honeypot of sorts. Security researchers identify the offending apps and Google simultaneously removes them from the Android Market and removes them remotely from users devices.

        If a device maker or carrier decides that upgrading devices makes it easier to quash security vulnerabilities than applying an update to the currently-installed OS version, fine. But, either way, security vulnerabilities in the OS and pre-installed apps need to take place as long as the devices are covered by their respective data plan.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Get a life

        Is your Android phone glued to your head and hand? Do you take it to bed?

      • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization


        Mostly I agree. As long as my phone works, I would rather no one mess with the OS and screw things up. And right now my phone works fine.

        Next time I purchase a phone I will get an upgraded phone and an upgraded OS. Upgrading on about a two year cycle should work fine for me.

        I do not think this update thing is as big a deal as techies want to believe. Most typical users do not even know what version of an OS they are using and most probably do not really even know how to check.
      • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

        @larryvand "May I remind everyone about Windows 95 and Windows NT? Or Windows XP later? If you wanted it, you bought a new PC."

        Very bad analogy because 1. Every version of Windows was and still is able to be purchased at a retail store 2. You can buy PC parts and build your own PC. Since Windows 95 I have never had to buy a computer to get a new Windows Operating system because I not only built my own PCs but I purchased the Windows OS and I'm not alone in this. Sure, sometimes if I wanted to run the latest Windows Operating system I have had to build a new computer, but I have never purchased a commercial computer from Dell, HP, etc to have the latest operating system and some computers can be updated to the latest version of a Windows Operating system, i.e if a PC can run or came with Windows Vista then it most certainly Windows 7, so again no need to purchase the hardware just to run the latest Windows Operating system. You're comparing apples and oranges and not only that you're spending way more money than you need to on a desktop PC.
    • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

      @Return_of_the_jedi ... a headline from Microsoft I guess ... I have not heard ONE COMPLAINT about FRAGMENTS or MISSING UPDATES. As a matter of fact, most folks I talk to AVOID UPDATES to prevent BRICKING their phones.
      • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

        @BrentRBrian : I have been using an iPhone 3Gs for over 2 years now, heavily, with hundreds of apps. I immediately do every update that comes along. So far without a glitch. I even broke mine in a biking crash. I restored everything without problem. Upgrade to iOS v5 slowed it down a little, but freeing space by trashing some videos souped it up again considerably. Nice job(s) :-)
      • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

        You are one lucky person....
        In my family we had 2-3G, 2-3GS, 1-4
        Over 50% of the time there are issues....
        Add to that an iPad1 and iPad2 - both good till iOS5 - both had issues.
      • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

        sounds like you've have a wee bit too much kool-aid...
    • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

      @Return_of_the_jedi The best phone from google and samsung is that one:
    • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

      @Return_of_the_jedi Well it is not for my kids... so it's 2012 and that would make it current year.
  • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

    "Microsoft, while a relative newcomer to the smartphone scene..."
    Huh? Microsoft has had smart phone operating systems since 2000. Way before iPhone or Android.
    • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

      @hill_ed They were essentially a non-participant during the latter part of the Windows CE phase.
      • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

        @jperlow Via Wikipedia: "In Q1 2004, Windows Mobile accounted for 23% of worldwide smartphone sales." Cite:
      • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

        Oh my goodness, why do we read and reply to your articles???
        WHY do we do it? I don't usually call people out, but you have annoyed me more than once.

        Whether you like it or not, Microsoft Win CE and HTC alongside Nokia essentially created 'the smartphone' with touchscreens, GPS, cameras, etc. What has the "latter part" of Windows CE got to do with ANYTHING? Do you see the conflict in your own words?

        "relative newcomer" versus "latter part". They started it NOT Apple or anyone else, so of what relevance is it that people have moved to some other devices along the way.

        It's akin to saying that air travel was invented by Boeing, since the wright brothers are now 'largely irrelevant'. Its just completely stupid.....
      • RE: Google's New Year resolution must be Android's virtualization

        @jperlow just admit that this phrase of yours is stupid. All those things that Traxxion is talking about is true - GPS, touchscreen, camera. OK, may be the technology was not as advanced 10 years but conceptually all those things were already implemented.
  • The main point is very good

    Android could really benefit from being available as an app on Apple and Windows PC's, so that people who use it on their mobile devices could use it everywhere. I wholly agree with the main thrust of the article. And the fragmentation thing, that's getting you guys nowhere, again.<br><br>And then you go off on the saving Windows Phone tangent again. It would have been a much better article without that. It has a 0.3 percent share of sales and declining. It's gone man. Let it go.<br><br>Medfield looks like a nice chip. Let's see how it holds up. Personally I bet they get 100 design wins for Android on Intel, and not one product shipped at scale - again. A shame, but market forces at work and all that.

    Edit: As I was writing this the first flurry about Windows 8 tablets on Clover Trail for 3Q2012 started squeaking out. So that's that. Nobody's giving up that to put Android on Medfield. Game over for this issue. No need to waste time on it.