Could Android fail?

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.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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