Re: Just an excuse for more Google lock-in
That's a fine idea in theory, but what is the motivation for, say, Samsung to take part in this? If there's no one in control of the software and apps, and thus no one can make much profit from that, the hardware is the only way you can differentiate. Ask HP and Dell how the "differentiate based on hardware only" thing is working out for them in the PC market these days. I think they make money at it, but nothing remotely close to what Apple and Samsung are making selling phones.
Sure, today, Samsung is winning the hardware battle and dominating in the Android market, but there aren't Samsung fanboys, just as there aren't Dell fanboys. There are Android fanboys, but they are fickle, and have no reason to choose Samsung for their next phone just because they did with their last one. Ask Motorola how sticky their Droid customers were who went with the Samsung GS3 this time around. No reason they wouldn't go with HTC next time around if they've got the best hardware, or maybe some Chinese company no one has heard of.
The problem is that at some point the hardware design innovation stagnates, as has happened with the PC market. We're nearing the point where you can't make screens any bigger, adding more cores is pointless, screens have a high enough dpi, phones can't be made much thinner, there are no more questionable gimmicks like wireless charging to add, so everyone is doing pretty much the same variations on basic themes just like in the PC market. Once the innovation becomes mostly about the software and everyone's hardware is "good enough", no one pays the kind of premiums Samsung is getting on the Galaxy series today in a competitive market.
Samsung wants to avoid this, which is why they're trying to differentiate on the software and ecosystem where possible, to make their customer base stickier. Their Touchwiz or whatever its called layer, S Voice instead of Google's offering, proprietary stuff like S Beam that works only with their hardware, working on developing their own music service, and probably their own app store at some point.
If they forked Android tomorrow, how many people would notice, or care? The type of people who read the Reg and other tech sites and hate Apple for its lock-in (among other things) would probably be up arms, but that's only a few percent of people. The average person doesn't know what "Android" is, they buy whatever phone looks the best to them, is a good deal, their friends are using, they see advertised, etc. They don't know what "forking" is, and their eyes would glaze over if you tried to explain it to them and why they should care and let it influence their decision whether or not to buy a Samsung phone.
The larger Samsung can grow their customer base, the greater the chance of them doing this - because why give revenue to Google that they could take for themselves? Why risk HTC or Motorola coming out with the next must-have Android phone and Samsung's market share plummeting? This change by Google might make them decide to fork sooner rather than later.