If the general public buys more carrier customized phones then the consumer is getting what they want. They have a choice and they would be choosing the carrier customized phones. The customer getting what they want is not a bad thing!
Regardless, to your point about standardization, Google does distinguish there brand today with the "Google Experience" device designation. (Phones with this designation, normally carry "powered by Google" or "with Google" somewhere on the device) These highly customized manufacturer/carrier combinations do not bear the "Google Experience" designation. This does not seem to be marketed that well to the consumer, but then again the people doing the marketing are manufacturers/carriers who may or may not have "Google Experience" devices.
In the end, even if there is some confusion about whether I as a consumer is purchasing a "Google Experience" device I would say that in general with Android the consumer knows what they are getting.
Let me summarize your position, you think that because some people will buy Android phones loaded with carrier restrictions and software that doesn't work how they expect, that they will blame the Android platform as a whole. Further, your position appears to be that there will be a significant number of these people that it will cause a significant decline in Android adoption numbers.
My refutation is that if a few manufacturer/carrier combinations produce Android phones that don't live up to their Android name, consumers are not forced to buy those phones. Once enough people give a particular phone a bad name no one will buy that particular phone and they will go to other phones. There are lots of high quality Android phones that meet the needs of users today. Take a look at the Droid, Nexus One, or HTC EVO for some great examples. This idea that bad press for one particular phone will turn people off the whole Android platform is rubbish. There is no evidence for that and no precedent for it. Consumers don't care about platforms they care about phones. There are many different manufacturers producing many different phones for Android, which gives the consumer a lot of choice to find the phone that suits them. That's the power of Android being open. Will there be bad Android phones produced? Inevitably, but the market place will marginalize those products into irrelevance. Finally, I'd like to add that your Toyota example is particularly malformed. First, Toyota is a manufacturer of cars. The correct parallel to the cell phone world would be a Motorola, HTC, Samsung, etc. If Motorola puts out a bad phone then it won't sell well, just as if Toyota produces a bad car it won't sell well. Secondly, the reason Toyota's sales numbers dropped was because of safety concerns, not a bad user experience. You can't compare a runaway Prius to "my Android phone looks different/I can't get XYZ app."
I'll believe it when I see it.
It seems today that most smart phone users are looking to do the following core tasks:
- Check Email
- Access the Web
- Social Networking (Twitter/Facebook)
For these core tasks the Android fragmentation issue is nonexistent. The point is, yes fragmentation exists, but the Android platform is good enough about providing compatibility across the platform for the core tasks that fragmentation doesn't hamper your average user. Thus, the phone does what the consumer needs it to do.
That is all that matters when you are talking about the success of the Android platform as a whole.
Carriers want your monthly contract, and if consumers want phones that haven't been customized and watered down by a carrier then they will go to whatever network offers these non-customized phones. The only danger is if ALL the carriers demand that ALL android phones must be customized this way, which will probably never happen as that might attract attention for monopolistic behavior.
As a consumer, if I don't like a particular manufacturer or I don't like a particular carrier, then I can choose to go to a different carrier that doesn't have restrictions and pick a phone from a manufacturer I do like. This is the benefit that Android brings, as an open platform. Now perhaps, some consumers won't care about the carrier restrictions on their phone, but I think given a choice the majority of cell phone users will choose a phone without carrier limitations.
What is making the Android platform "successful" is that consumers are buying products that are built on the Android platform and they will continue to buy Android based products, because they deliver what they need to get done. As I said earlier, the consumer doesn't care at all about fragmentation and since the products meet the expectations of the consumers then Android is GOOD ENOUGH. Now perhaps that is not the best marketing term to use, but that is the underlying economic logic that makes and will continue to make Android successful.
This has a straight parallel to the Windows vs Mac world. When developing application for Windows do you think that all the Windows developers are out there buying every single PC configuration to test their app? Of course not, that simply isn't practical. It is why Mac systems have always had a more cohesive/"just works" feel to them. (Apple owns the hardware) The end of the day though, Windows systems work just fine for almost everyone out there. It has also led to a much lower cost for computers that you can't get in the Mac universe. This is the same thing that you are seeing with Android. It is good enough and in fact has features that I would hazard a guess gives the iPhone a jealous eye. Android is running on all sorts of different hardware, some with keyboards, some without, some starting at $199, some as low a $0(BOGO deals). All these things end up in a highly tailored product that allows each consumer to make their own choice. The good Android phones will rise to the top and the bad Android phones will fall to the bottom. It's the way business works.
In the end, the consumer doesn't care at all about fragmentation. What the consumer cares about is, "Does the phone do what I need it to do?"
Android delivers what consumers need out of a smartphone platform and it does it well enough that any small fragmentation issue becomes irrelevant.
Also, they serve up ads at the top of gmail itself, not to mention I'm sure they could mine data of users' phone calls. They have great voice-to-text technology for Android that I am sure they could re-purpose for analytical uses.