Is Sony ditching Android for its own OS?

Google should be pretty worried if it does

TODO alt text

The news this morning that Sony is considering its own OS for phones and tablets, based on the Vita system it's developed for its new handheld console, will be worrying a fair few people up at Google HQ.

Not because it will be better (let's face it: Sony isn't suddenly going to come up with an ecosystem that betters the app opportunities found with Android) but the notion that Sony could move wholesale to this new platform and drop Google's OS altogether isn't as crazy as it sounds.

The main point is Android is no longer the safe bet it used to be, thanks to the reams and reams of patent violations being lodged by Apple. The most recent attack on Samsung's Galaxy Nexus is a thinly veiled assault on Google's Ice Cream Sandwich and, should Apple prevail, every company using Android 4.0 will have to skin it to within an inch of its life or stop selling the device altogether to avoid legal action.

Cost on top of cost

That's before other royalties are brought into the picture: Sony is one of the few Android making companies that hasn't yet been targeted by Microsoft as it looks to nab royalties for each Android smartphone sold. But unless Sony has some special Android IP ninja powers, you have to assume that these conversations are already happening, even if it's at an informal level.

Other manufacturers have hinted at Android exit strategies too: Samsung has partnered with Intel on the Tizen OS and HTC has long been rumoured to be looking at its own smartphone ecosystem. HTC has even been linked with buying RIM out with a view to leveraging a forthcoming operating system - drastic measures.

Sony is keen to send a holistic message about its products: that's why it bought Ericsson out, so it could wholly own the smartphone division. Therefore, an OS that runs on everything form tablets to phones to TVs may well have been part of the design brief for the new Vita platform.

Plan C

Of course, the quote stating a Vita OS on smartphones "is possible" could mean that Sony wants to simply overlay a consistent user interface on its gaming products and they'll still run Android as happily as ever. The huge bank of apps is something that's keeping manufacturers happy for now and would be a hard thing to give up.

But should the patent war swing heavily in Apple's favour, it may make it impossible to create smartphones cost-effectively on Google's platform - then we could see a swift return to the days when each manufacturer had its own OS and consumers were forced to consider how each one works before making a smartphone decision.