For something called Jelly Bean, an older version of Android takes up a lot of space in terms of smartphone adoption.
According to research firm IDC's lead mobility analyst, Kevin Restivo, the much more recent KitKat 4.4.2 is running on "a measly 8.5% of Android devices in circulation," Restivo recently tweeted. On the other hand, "83 percent of Android smartphones in circulation run a version of the O.S. >v4.0. Fragmentation still an issue." No wonder the promise of Google Silver seems like an idea whose time has finally come.
A new software standard and certification process that Google plans to roll out to several OEMs to ensure a more unified Android experience, Silver seems intended to replace the current inexpensive Nexus initiative. This is a big deal because you could attribute Android's phenomenal growth in part to its history as an open source platform. Silver could, if adoption proceeds as Google hopes, offer more of the stability associated with Apple's iOS.
Less fragmentation could mean, among other things, less onerous testing for apps and mobile games, which continues to be a pain point for developers big and small. It could also mean a more consistent user experience for consumers who probably sometimes wonder why certain apps and games don't work as they thought they would on certain devices.
Although Silver might seem already long overdue, there is some logic into why Google is only getting more serious about standardization and certification at this point. Though it obviously makes some of its own hardware, Google needed Android to be open enough and flexible enough that it would provide an alternate path for developers who felt constrained by iOS but who lacked confidence in BlackBerry's BES 10 or Windows Phone 8.
Now that Android is not only achieving massive developer mindshare but increased revenue, a degree of control may be necessary to keep consumers (and by extension developers) more loyal. If nothing else, Silver may be a step towards offering greater security among the existing Android install base.
On the other hand, Google faces a delicate balancing act in ensuring that Silver doesn't significantly lengthen the app development process, or that it becomes something to which the rest of its ecosystem is brought kicking and screaming. OEMs expected to take part in Silver include Motorola and LG. These firms should move as quickly as possible to announce how Silver will have an impact on their next generation of devices, priming the pump for developers to adjust their own app and mobile game launches accordingly.
As much as it may come across as occasionally authoritarian, developers have come to expect clear and consistent messages around the iOS roadmap for several years now. With Silver, Google should be able to do the same thing with Android. That pint-sized little robot figure may finally be starting to grow up.--Shane