Tim Carter
Tim Carter
How Android became the world’s largest mobile computing platform.

The Android Ecosystem


Android was designed from the outset as an industry collaboration, in the form of a partner-based ecosystem. 

That ecosystem can be visualised like this:

Its purpose is to enable the mobile industry for the open Internet.

It has to align the interests and capabilities of:

  1. device manufacturers / brands
  2. mobile networks / operators / carriers
  3. semiconductor / silicon chip manufacturers
  4. app developers & content companies
  5.  (including Google)
  6. retailers & distributors
  7. users / end customers

Before Android mobile experiences were highly fragmented between devices and networks.

Proprietary business models required or accepted incompatible technology and inconsistent user experiences.

This harmed product and service evolution and innovation, including Google's.

With Android Google intended to change that.

I negotiated hundreds of  Google's Android partnerships from 2008 to 2015 to help build a global partner ecosystem.

Symbian had taught me what can go wrong when a platform fails to curate its ecosystem.

Like Android, Symbian was a mobile computing platform built to enable devices to differentiate.

But unlike Android, Symbian was a software company owned by multiple competing hardware companies.

One shareholder (Nokia) dominated, killing Symbian's technical and political independence and thus its ability to act as a platform.

Without independence from its shareholders, Symbian software was ruled by hardware business thinking and development stalled.

When Apple and Android redefined the mobile experience Symbian was unable to respond and every Symbian licensee switched to Android – or left the mobile phone business altogether.

Success in balance

We created balance between Android's stakeholders by applying the same PRINCIPLES and BOUNDARIES to everyone, including Google.

Principles define expectations.

Meeting expectations builds trust.

Trust encouraged our stakeholders to participate, while our principles left space for compliant differentiation.

Android principles

1. Complete

Android provides the fundamental software needed to build a compatible device.

2. Open

Everyone has full and equal access to all Android code & capabilities.

3. Free

Anyone can implement Android on any device without charge.

4. Compatible

Each Android version works the same way for every app on every compatible device.

Building 44, Android HQ at the Googleplex | Mountain View, California

photo credit: Tim Carter 2012

Boundaries define scope.

Boundaries define where stakeholders are subject to the principles (i.e. within the ecosystem) and where they retain complete freedom (i.e. beyind the ecosystem).

Stakeholders can compete with the ecosystem beyond its boundaries, but not attack its principles within the boundaries.

Android boundaries

1. Bran

Google will not use the ‘Android’ brand to compete with partners.

2. GMS

Google mobile services (‘GMS’) are not available to partners who produce incompatible Android devices.

3. Revenue share

Google will only share revenue from GMS on Android with partners who contribute significantly to the ecosystem through innovation, scale or other ways.

4. Freedom

Android will not prevent its partners from working on competing platforms.

A scrappier exposition of the Android partner ecosystem
photo credit: Tim Carter 2014

Using Android’s principles and boundaries we built a powerful and complete partner ecosystem that changed the world.

In return, all partners shared in the influence and outsized returns of the new paradigm.

Android Pins
photo credit: Tim Carter, 2015

The success of our ecosystem prevented mobile Internet access being controlled by exclusionary business models.

We acquired our first billion users in a little over 5 years.

In the process, Android enabled multiple industries to participate in the next stage of connected computing, including wearable devices, automotive and TVs.

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