Could Android fail?

Could Android fail?

Summary: Could we wake up one morning and find Android gone? One analyst believes that security vulnerabilities could result in litigation, which in turn could make Android too rich for Google's blood.

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TOPICS: Android, Mobility
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When we think of the smartphones and tablets operating systems, we primarily think of Apple's iOS and Google's Android platforms. It's essentially become a two-horse race. But what would happen if one of the horses stumbled?

What would happen if Android failed?

Let's start at the most obvious point: Why might Android fail?

Having been involved in the tech industry for more than two decades, I'm well aware of the ebb and flow of the high-tech tide. Things come, and then things go to make room for more new stuff. But at present, I have to admit that Android wasn't on my radar as a technology that had the potential to wane. If anything, the increasing demand for smartphones and tablets — especially hardware that's cheaper than the iOS-powered stuff that Apple sells — should put Android on a sturdier footing.

That was until Rob Enderle, analyst for the Enderle Group, began highlighting potential chinks in the Android armor. And the weakness he zeroed in on was litigation related to security vulnerabilities.

"It is easy," writes Enderle in a column on TechNewsWorld, "to jump to an end game where there is a major disaster and Google, a carrier, or an Android phone manufacturer would be held partially liable because it was their device that was used to trigger the disaster."

He goes on to list examples of Android security at its sloppiest, such as a hack that causes handsets to overheat and fail, and how Android can be used to poke holes in other security systems, such as those of an airliner.

Predicting future litigation against the platform "isn't a big jump," says Enderle, "because even the American Civil Liberties Union is taking action against this platform."

Enderle also points out that congress is now working on a law that would assign liability to firms that were hacked, and that this could hasten the demise of Android.

Another problem is how fickle Google is about projects. As Enderle quite rightly points out, outside of Google's core search and ad business, it seems that anything can be axed at short notice. Just ask how Reader users feel. 

While I believe that there is some merit to Enderle's point, the problem with the litigation argument is that it can be applied equally to all other operating systems. Sure, the popularity of Android makes it a prime target for litigation, but popularity makes Windows, iOS, and OS X targets too. And if Windows Phone or BlackBerry OS — or some other future platform — gains significant traction, then they too will become targets.

Security issues are not just an Android issue. They affect all operating systems. And if lawyers start getting involved, it's going to get messy for everyone.

But what about the fear that Google could lose interest in Android? The company has lost interest in many other projects in the past, such as Wave, Reader, Health, and Desktop to name just a few. I suppose this is possible, but this wouldn't mean the death of Android since the project is open source. There would be no shortage of companies willing to step in to take over. Sure, the loss of Google at the helm would be a blow, but it is unlikely that it would signal the end of the platform.

Personally, I think that the biggest threat to Android is not security — Google can throw money at this problem if it wants to get serious about security — but that of fragmentation stifling developers. This is not going to kill Android (in fact, it's a problem that's faced Android almost from the start), but it does mean that Android apps are lagging behind those available for iOS. As someone who uses both platforms, and uses the same apps on both platforms, this is getting to be more and more of a problem.

Apps are better on iOS than Android. Fact. 

That said, I think Android is safe. I'm not much of a betting man, but I'd be willing to put $10 down on Android being around, and run by Google, in five years time. And tech years are like dog years, so there's little point in prognosticating beyond that timespan.

Topics: Android, Mobility

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68 comments
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  • no - just no

    I'm not a big fan of these 'question' sort of articles in the first place. "Could the sun never rise again?" etc. I don't know where to begin - I'd end up writing a comment the length of this article, so I'll just let it be for now.
    drwong
    • Sounds like fear.

      @Dr Wong.

      That wasn't a reply. It sounded more like fear.

      Oh, Android won't go away 100%. But 95% is very possible. Even quite likely.

      Android's success is based on giving the phone builders who weren't Apple, some chance of competing with Apple. These phone builders just weren't ready with anything else that could do the job.

      But Windows Phone has improved a lot.

      And it could soon be very expensive to build Android phones.

      Which way will the the guys not making much money jump?

      Samsung have no great loyalty to Android. But if they stay in, then it won't be with Android badged as Android. They are now enough of the market that they would be crazy not to take their own fork and differentiate like there is no tomorrow.

      And strange as it seems, I think that Google would do the same. They also need to fork to have anything that they really own.

      What is left to call Android.
      Henry 3 Dogg
  • Rob Enderle, analyst for the Enderle Group

    is a waste of space as an analyst. he doesn't check his facts - see SCO . - he just printed what they said without checking
    deaf_e_kate
    • This

      How does Adrian not know about Rob Enderle?
      symbolset
      • i don't know

        he's usually on the ball
        deaf_e_kate
  • Lack of Security didn't kill Windows

    It's the biggest pile of $hit and MS didn't go bankrupt.

    It will be the same for Android.
    itguy10
    • Predatory licensing practices, rather than a free market, ensured

      Microsoft's survival.

      MS is a good manipulator - and being first, regardless of consequences, is how our market works. Or getting there after waiting for everyone else to do the work and then copy and slop it out to "fix it later", but forgetting to do that in favor of slopping in more features and making a bigger mess in the process... Especially if you add in predatory details to lock out or exterminate competition... if corporations are people too, what's the penalty for murder?
      HypnoToad72
      • That's not true. Or if it is, then Apple and Google are guilty of it, too

        What you just said is EXACTLY what was has been said about both Apple and Google for the past three years now,

        So I guess that means that there's nothing wrong with it.
        William Farrel
        • funny you say that

          Google didn't even exist when Microsoft set up all those "deals".
          danbi
  • Rob Enderle is a fool at best.

    He has never once prognosticated anything of value and is simply a mouth piece for anyone footing the bill. It is like using FOSS Patents or GrokLaw as sound legal analysis.
    Bruizer
    • Not to mention ...

      google.com/patents or google scholar. Man these guys should really get more credible sources!
      RedSoldat
    • Groklaw has an advantage...

      ...in that its prognostication record is a lot better than Rob Enderle's and it publishes the documents relevant to the cases it covers.
      John L. Ries
  • And don't even bring up the Airliner "hack".

    It never happened. Someone hacked a simulator and not an airliner. AKH, you are much better than this article. All OSes have vulnerabilities but this is built on the worst of straw man arguments.
    Bruizer
  • that's FUD folks!

    Android is rock solid because it's based on Linux and the FOSS has your back!
    LlNUX Geek
    • Yeah!

      Linux can't be hacked! Just ask all the server admins how so many massive data intrusions are happening.

      Oh wait.... all computers are vulnerable.
      Emacho
      • No argument from me on that,

        and iOS is a whittled-down version of FreeBSD, which has subtle differences to Linux but is open source nonetheless...

        Still, if hackers figured out Windows without needing the source code*, if the source code is handed out on a silver platter, then it's so much the easier...

        * of which MS had no qualms giving it to China and other countries, and then - not realizing the obvious - went to government a couple years later demanding they intervene to clean up the mess MS made because of the global hacking problem...
        HypnoToad72
        • FreeBSD vs Linux

          Come on. There are significant differences between *BSD and Linux. At the basics, the open source license is *very* different. *BSD does not carry a viral license like GPL.

          Also, *BSD has always had clean and well designed architecture. Something that commercial UNIX and Linux always lacked. The well designed architecture, although not helping much short term, is helping significantly in the long term and for code quality. Because the "let's hack this quickly in" mentality is suppressed.

          Each has their own good and bad sides, this is why they exist as separate projects.

          Of course, as open source platforms, all of these are inherently better than the closed source platforms.
          danbi
          • explain exactly what make the GPL viral?

            If you use my code, make changes, then you give to someone else- then give the code too.

            If you don't want to give the code, then don't use my code.
            jessepollard
    • Android makes Linux look bad

      Actually Android gives Linux a bad name. My Ubuntu desktop never had any reliability or performance problems. It actually ran better than the same low-end hardware running Windows XP. Android on the other hand was a sluggish unreliable piece of crap on both a Samsung and HTC device I used from T-Mobile. It was also so loaded up with carrier and OEM crap that it reminded me of a new Windows PC from your favorite OEM. Android has become a disaster.
      Tiggster79
      • So true!

        I agree that Android does make Linux a bad name, but imagine if same amount of android users are using Ubuntu. Same issues can happen as well since Linux. Open source is great and I'm all for it; however, my concern is if massive amount of users are out there, they will be targeted and since it is open source, anybody can develop malware. That's why I'm a bit concerned about Ubuntu jumping into mobile/tablet market. Since Apple understood this issue, they started iOS closed system rather than open to protect end-users making mistake. I'm sure as article point out, Google doesn't care about malware issue. They probably want third-party to develop the program and they'll make money when people buy it on their Play store. So it is a win for Google. Majority of the problem is not the platform, but the end-users. We just like to blame somebody else.
        Eddie Kim