Google and The Tragedy of the Commons

This caught my eye:

There are a lot of things I love about my Android phone–like the easy integration into the rest of my Google life. With the release of iCloud, that’s less of an advantage now than it used to be. Sure, some of the Android devices are beautiful, but if they become obsolete in a year from a software perspective in less than a year, this is going to be a serious problem.

There is a linked-to commentary of an original editorial, which is all a very interesting discussion.

The problem is a cultural one: Samsung considers its relationship with the consumer to be concluded the moment the sale is completed. Whereas Apple, Microsoft, and other software vendors have learned the value of supporting current users in the hope of enticing new ones, Samsung’s attitude remains deeply rooted in its history as a hardware manufacturer. It sees production and R&D costs in one column and it tries to balance them against sales revenue in the other, never raising its gaze to the long-term consideration of whether anyone would come back for a repeat purchase.

And from the commentary:

Samsung, as with HTC and — until a few months ago — Motorola, is a primarily a hardware company. They only make a buck when that device is purchased by a carrier or individual. Thereafter, every ounce of effort it puts into producing an update for devices already on the market eats into its profit on that sale.

Compare this to what Amazon chose to do when it forked Android for the Kindle Fire. Now, for all intents and purposes, it owns its own version of Android. It, unlike all of these companies making phone after phone using Google’s Android (plus a crappy skin), is in control of its platform and has incentive to improve and update it.

The problem isn’t Samsung, it’s systemic to Android as a whole. The makers of Android hardware see little benefit in updating even devices that are less than a year old. And, though I think it’s a punk move, I don’t blame them. There is little to no return to be had.

This is a classic tragedy of the commons. Google has this strange strategy of providing a lot of the public goods for the Internet and now maybe they’ll find that this is too big of a burden to bear?

Or maybe they go full government and raise taxes (license fees). No doubt they’re measuring the impact of mobile advertising on the bottom line. Maybe Google’s worst case scenario is Apple finding a way of sucking all that traffic into its ecosystem (a la AOL from the 90s). So keeping Android healthy and free keeps the Internet free and ad-driven.

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