Fragmentation: Google's Killer Feature

What's in store for Amazon's planned press event on September 6th? Could it be their long-rumored smart phone? A safer bet is that it's a slew of new Kindles, and a new Fire is expected. However, releasing an entry-level tablet is a lot different today than it was in 2011. This time Amazon needs to compete directly with the maker of their product's OS, and chief among the selling points of the Nexus 7 is its exclusive, bleeding edge Android OS: Jelly Bean.

I'm curious to see what Jeff Bezo's has up his sleeve. He's surprised me in the past, and I don't think he's finished yet. But I'm even more curious to see how Google's strategy of leveraging new operating systems as selling points plays out in the long term.

The OS issue isn't Amazon's biggest hurdle. They have other things to worry about: speed, responsiveness, relevance, and power button placement. Besides, the original Fire tried to divorce itself completely from Android. They can just keep that up, right? After all, the average consumer doesn't care about OS implementation. Well, that's one way of looking at it. But ask yourself this: does the average Amazon shopper formulate part of their purchasing decision by reading the Customer Reviews?

There is a problem here, like it or not. Nikon's new Android-based S800c point-and-shoot camera is turning heads, but many of its potential owners are reading disparaging comments on the Internet that complain about its Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system, which was the state-of-the-art back in 2010. Personally, I'm not convinced that the average Joe isn't concerned with mobile OS versions. Parting with a couple hundred bucks isn't a frivolous thing these days. Offering a new product with an old OS isn't a death knell, but it is a stumbling block, and in a nearly-zero profit margin landscape, there isn't much room for error.

I think Google realizes this, and I think it will help them sell specific products in the short term. But the long term trade off will likely be lasting damage to their platform. The run up to Ice Cream Sandwich seemed to drag on forever. It was highly anticipated, and its arrival was met with genuine excitement. But the next thing you know, ripping through like a whiplash hurricane, Jelly Bean arrives, and it's exclusive to ASUS and the Nexus 7. While this succeeds at making one $200 tablet more appealing, it also lessens the value of every other Android device in existence. A hot new OS may be a killer feature, but it makes me wonder who is being slain.