Is Google's Android under threat from forked-Android smartphones such as Nokia X?

It's that time of the year when reports about quarterly sales and shipments are a regular part of our daily tech dose, but one curious report caught our attention more than others.


ABI Research's 2014 Q2 report on smartphone operating systems says forked Android builds are on the rise. These are the renegade Android devices with the OS built directly from AOSP sources, and do not feature Google Mobile Services (the proprietary suite of software that brings services such as Google Play Store, Play Services etc). You may count the Nokia X, Amazon Kindles in this category, but ABI says it's the Chinese and Indian vendors which have driven up its market share.


Compared to the mainstream Android (i.e devices with GMS such as all Samsung, Sony, HTC, Micromax, Karbonn phones), ABI Research reports forked Android grew 20% from 1Q 2014 to 2Q 2014, where the total market growth was 3% sequentially. Certified or OHA Android still leads the market with 65 percent, but it grew 13 percent sequentially. Both flavours of Android combined shipped 278 million smartphones, a staggering 86 percent of the market.


“AOSP’s growth is driven by the development of Chinese and Indian handset manufacturers, not only in their domestic markets, but increasingly throughout Asia and beyond,” said Nick Spencer, senior practice director, mobile devices, ABI Research. “Chinese and Indian vendors accounted for the majority of smartphone shipments for the first time with 51% share. While many of these manufacturers are low cost, some are making inroads in the mid-tier, including Xiaomi and Gionee, hence the growing challenge to Samsung in particular,” added Spencer.


While that's the gist of the report, it fails to mention which vendors in India are causing a spike in AOSP adoption. Most major vendors are selling handsets which have the appropriate GMS apps and services. While these vendors have not directly signed agreements with Google, the ODMs they use in China have, and that's where all the GMS goodies are bundled in. In India, the Nokia X series is the most prominent AOSP device, but that's only a recent entry and could not have caused a major spike.


In China, the story is completely different than India, where the market is even more long-tail, and many of these vendors or ODMs they use, do not have official Google support. One only needs to look at a Chinese e-commerce site to see the array of brands in the market. So the spike in China is understandable.


While the rise of AOSP is alarming, Google is in an ideal position to bring converts into the mainstream fold. After all, Android is Android, and once you have a taste of AOSP, it's easier to make the jump up to an Android phone with Google services. It can be agreed that Google's version of the OS is the more attractive platform, thanks to its app collection and the better security measures. What would be a great cause of concern in the coming years is if they are not able to turn those AOSP device users into those using a device tied to Google.

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