Android Remains Open, Android Remains Powerful

April 1, 2011
27

This week there was an article published by a pair of writers over at Bloomberg Businessweek : Ashlee Vance and Peter Burrows. This article tells an account of "about a dozen executives working at key companies in the Android ecosystem" including LG, Toshiba, Samsung, and Facebook. This epic tale even notes complaints with the US Justice Department over the situation. Noone directly commenting on the situation is named, and specific facts are sparse - is this a case of fabrication, or is it such a giant story that mafia-style gunmen will come down upon anyone tied to its publication?

Let's go through this story point by point, commenting as we go. First off, there's an interesting couple of sentences to set up the whole story:

From now on, companies hoping to receive early access to Google's most up-to-date software will need approval of their plans. And they will seek that approval from Andy Rubin, the head of Google's Android group.

In a single reading, this may seem like a harsh reality, one that goes directly against Google's claim of an "open source" environment for its mobile OS Android. Looking over it again, this blurb reads differently: early access. What does that mean in this situation? It means that Google would literally work with a manufacturer to deliver Android early, early as in before the rest of the manufacturers, early as in before the source code is released to developers aiming to make compatible apps to work inside it, early as in before Google is prepared to release it to groups that might use it to compete against them.

Google promotes Android as an open-source environment, one where anyone is allowed to work in and with the mobile OS without Google slapping their hand and taking it away from them. Does that mean that a manufacturer should get preferential treatment just because they ask for it? Absolutely not. Grocery stores don't get early access to milk from farms because farms need to make sure that milk is processed and ready to drink before it's released.

Next, a bit more on what Bloomberg has decided Google once was and how harsh they've become:

The Google that once welcomed all comers to help get its mobile software off the ground has become far more discriminating—especially for companies that want to include Google services such as search and maps on their hardware. Google also gives chip and device makers that abide by its rules a head start in bringing Android products to market, according to the executives.

There's a good example of a model inside this ecosystem that can be compared to what Google is doing here, and comparatively, Google is being much less capitalistic about it: Free-to-Premium Apps. In our current Android Market model, free apps reign supreme. While the advertising route works for some, there's also the releasing of two versions of your app method, one where your first app is a free and limited version of an application, the second version being a premium or more full version of the app that has a cost.

What Google has done here is to release a full free operating system in a similar way, only they're not trying to sell their premium version, they're still giving it away. What Google has instead of a premium version is the pre-release, this version going out to manufacturers who they've vetted and have decided to be worthy of being the first ones out the door. Just like any business deal, you've got to be willing to make concessions in order to get special favors.

Bloomberg goes on to note the simplicity of the truth, the key to dismantling every complainers case in the whole rest of the article:

Google's Rubin, a mobile industry veteran, anticipated such market fragmentation. That's why when Google prepares a new version of Android, it selects a chipmaker and a device maker so that the first smartphones and tablets show off all the bells and whistles

Musicians do this same thing each and every day of the year, they release a single, or in some cases completely free music meant to be distributed at will, to the people they trust to represent the music in the manner that best allows it to flourish.

Next, a quote comes in from the director of global Android partnerships at Google, John Lagerling, who speaks on the reasoning behind working with a single manufacturer for each Hero device that sends out a version of Android unto the world:

Google says its procedures are about quality control, fixing bugs early, and building toward a "common denominator" experience, says John Lagerling, director of global Android partnerships at Google. "After that, the customization can begin."

These hero phones you've all heard about:

HTC Dream aka T-Mobile G1 : First phone released to the market to use Android OS, October 22, 2008, this device used Android 1.0, a version without a special name (starting with 1.5 they worked with tasty treats, Cupcake first.)

Nexus One : another HTC device, tested throughout Google's innards, announced December 12, 2009, released January 5, 2010, with a stock version of Android 2.1 Eclair.

Nexus S : a Samsung device released December 16, 2010 with Android 2.3 Gingerbread. This was one of two phone we know about to have been in the running to be Google's hero phone for Android 2.3 Gingerbread, the other being the Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY, which will also soon be releasing with a version of Gingerbread, Android 2.3.2 (or .3, we're not sure yet for the USA.)

XOOM : a Motorola tablet released February 24, 2011 with Google's first Android version for tablet-sized devices, Android 3.0 Honeycomb.

Then comes the harsh part:

Over the past few months, according to several people familiar with the matter, Google has been demanding that Android licensees abide by "non-fragmentation clauses" that give Google the final say on how they can tweak the Android code—to make new interfaces and add services—and in some cases whom they can partner with.

Whoa! Wait a second, Google, isn't THAT the antithesis of an open source project? It seems like there's nothing, then, between Google and controlling whatever gets released on for-sale hardware with their operating system on it. To be able to sell a device with Android OS on it, a business MUST get a license from Google.

Next, more legal matters:

It's these types of actions that have prompted the gripes to the Justice Department, says a person with knowledge of the matter. Google spokeswoman Shari Yoder Doherty declined to comment on Google and its partners or any complaints to the government.

Whether Bloomberg actually asked Shari Yoder about this matter or not is irrelevant, really, as there appears to be no record of the "gripes" actually happening. We guess the gripes would be against Google for not allowing their Apache Software License the way these manufacturers saw fit. You can read more about Google's ASL [in this classic article on Ars Technica], but what it essentially says is that with this license, Google can release code that's free and open that manufacturers can then tweak and NOT re-distribute for free usage. This, says Ars in 2007, promotes market growth, but not as quick a growth potential as utter freeness would.

Finally, a quote on the similarities between this situation and the release of Windows OS throughout the years:

In the PC realm, Microsoft habituated its partners to expect equal access to new versions of Windows. If anything, says Gartner (IT) analyst Michael Gartenberg, the software giant was equal-opportunity to a fault. "Microsoft often got criticized for treating all partners the same, whether they were doing great work or mediocre work," he says. "Google seems to have no problem with playing favorites."

And they should, the absolutely should. Google has created a system that they've licensed as open source in a way that has, and definitely will continue to make the mobile market grow exponentially into the foreseeable future. Google gives their product away for free, you can use it however you want unless you want to sell it, in which case you've got to get their approval, then they're going to want to add their Android Market to your device before you sell it.

But you're allowed to sell your device with unlockable bootloaders and essentially open systems again, thus making your product one that your users can modify however they see fit. So what's the missing link? Rogue manufacturers getting pissed off because they can't have a product someone else worked on for free with no limits that they can then clutter up and repackage for a gigantic profit, blaming their frustration on the fact that Google said they're giving out an open-source system - which, if you ask me and us, they still are.

The quotes above come from an article posted on Bloomberg.


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  • Proprietary_Android

    Well put!

    Seems that some OEM’s are probably pissed that they are being “forced” to abide by the rules they agreed to when they joined the OHA and partnered with Google. I think some thought that they could just take Android and turn it into their own proprietary OS and lock in customers like iOS does thus getting a free lunch from Google. Google doesn’t really want that to happen imo. Google seems to be trying to make a platform that will allow everyone to compete equally. They really aren’t playing favorites. Being a “favorite” is the choice of the partner via joining the OHA and playing by the rules. I don’t see Google excluding anyone that wants to participate.

    This article on MIPS ( http://www.mips.com/blog/?p=46 ) gives more insight than anything Bloomberg wrote. Basically, Google is working with anyone and everyone that is willing to work with them to develop the best platform that will utilize the widest array of hardware and still allow some software customizations via OEM’s without causing fragmentation. In other words, by trying to make everyone happy a few are pissed.

    As for the statement about MS Windows. . . what a crock! The OEM’s aren’t allowed to customize Windows. Could you imagine the headache if MS allowed that to happen–updates wouldn’t happen at all and every PC would be a security nightmare.

    Google’s going the extra step that MS has never done. MS locked into Intel and chips cost a butt load. Google is letting any chip designer & manufacturer join in and they are working with them. The same goes for other hardware and software partners. And wouldn’t you know it. . . but someone has to stay in control of the project and make decisions or it will turn into a complete cludge fuck.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been saying for a while now that Google should keep it’s pimp strong. I’m glad to see they are. I like openness but we need some damn consistency so all the apps work and updates are easier to do. Manufacturers should only be allowed to add apps, widgets and a launcher app. Things that can easily be replaced by the user to their liking or set back to the default Android version. If a company edits it so much it barely resembles Android and has lots of compatibility issues then they shouldn’t be allowed to claim it’s an Android device.

    • http://shadow101202.com technobubble

      I agree with you 100% Google just want quality control. I hear everyday how rubbish Android is on tablets. Then you ask them what they are using and its a $100 chinese rip off running 2.1
      Just enough control to make sure when you buy android there is an expected level of quality. This protects us the consumer

  • http://twitter.com/daveloft Dave Loft

    How does holding back the latest version of Android accomplish this? Any manufacturer who wants to fully customize their device will just stick to the older one since their not allowed to use the latest one. Isn’t the issue that devices run older version of the OS.

    So again how does holding back the latest version Android help this?

    • http://androidcommunity.com/ Chris Burns

      they aren’t holding anything back, they’re working with a single manufacturer to release each hero version of Android to provide an example of how they feel it works best, then they continue by releasing the OS to the public (for developers of apps, etc) and start the process of licensing the OS to people who want to sell devices with it on – the people want the newest version of the OS, they don’t care if the manufacturer cant get it. if the manufacturer cant get it, it means they’re unwilling to comply with Google’s demands for their, again, FREE OS.

    • Proprietary_Android

      They aren’t really doing anything different. They’ve always had certain agreements with OHA members to follow certain comparability requirements. Now they are just tightening down on that same principle and working with hardware (SoC) companies to ensure that Android works properly on all hardware (anyone that wants to work with Google to ensure that their hardware functions properly).

      Some OEM’s are just now complaining because Google has finally put their foot down and said, enough is enough and you are all going to follow the guidelines or wait till we release it as open source. Then they can do whatever they want however, they won’t have market access or Google apps and some of the other nice proprietary stuff Google adds to device’s that comply with OHA rules.

      So, yes we will still see crappy products put out however they are not “Google Android” products–they really shouldn’t even be called “Android” products but that’s life with open source. That will still continue but their sales are negligible. The companies that want the latest version of Android and all of Google’s added bells and whistles will now have to make sure they comply with the OHA rules, their changes MUST go through Google for approval, and they MUST pass quality control tests to ensure that their devices work properly–seems Google’s been over laxed about those things in the past.

      Therefore, devices that have the “with Google” logo on them will be the devices you know have met all the requirements and should function properly. Anything without that logo is a crap-shoot = buyer beware.

      They aren’t holding back the latest version of Android. They are still doing things the same. They just chose not to release Honeycomb because it is tablet specific and needs to be integrated back into the Android tree before being released. The “anti-fragmentation program” is just a firmer implementation of what Google has been doing all along.

      • http://amitgawande.tumblr.com/ Amit Gawande

        “..yes we will still see crappy products put out however they are not “Google Android” products–they really shouldn’t even be called “Android” products..”

        I am not sure Google will like this, given this is will heavily affect the market share metric for Android.

  • corwin1681

    I hope this means touchwiz, motoblur, and others similar to those two will go away! Keeping my fingers crossed!

    • Knedjo

      That’s quite opposite! You’ve obviously haven’t read article above! And on customization front I was also against these, but haven’t had anything short of fabulous experiences with SenseUI and TouchWiz (3.0)! Must admit haven’t tried Motoblur, but Samsung’s and HTC’s customizations truly add value!

      Regarding the Bloomberg’s “blog” it just shows utter ignorance and lack of any insightful knowledge about Android deployment business model, or partners relationship!

      Google always had last saying about any update when new Android build is out, so what’s the fuss!

      One thing to note – this is Bloomberg, they’re serious profitable center of the bigger brother! Don’t think for one second that this is some lame journalism! This is deliberate attack on Google for the purpose of someone interests!

    • Knedjo

      That’s quite opposite! You’ve obviously haven’t read article above! And on customization front I was also against these, but haven’t had anything short of fabulous experiences with SenseUI and TouchWiz (3.0)! Must admit haven’t tried Motoblur, but Samsung’s and HTC’s customizations truly add value!

      Regarding the Bloomberg’s “blog” it just shows utter ignorance and lack of any insightful knowledge about Android deployment business model, or partners relationship!

      Google always had last saying about any update when new Android build is out, so what’s the fuss!

      One thing to note – this is Bloomberg, they’re serious profitable center of the bigger brother! Don’t think for one second that this is some lame journalism! This is deliberate attack on Google for the purpose of someone interests!

      • Anonymous

        Touchwiz adds value? Are you shitting me?

      • Anonymous

        I still like Launcher Pro the best. But there are so many awesome launchers out there that I don’t understand why companies waste their time and money on something that is just going to get replaced by the user. That being said, Sense UI 3.0 looks pretty damn awesome. I might keep that one around. But sadly Sense is an anomaly.

      • Proprietary_Android

        Most users don’t root their phones. They buy them and use them as is. The OEM’s are trying to get “lock in” of customers by altering the OS–if they make you dependent on their upgrades an make it so different that the user feels like they have to get the same company’s product. . . same as Apple.

        Some of the deeper integration is actually necessary for things like business, where proprietary software needs to be integrated into Android. It’s just a question about how to go about that. OEM’s up till now have pretty much just done it however they’ve pleased–that’s the problem.

        Google will still allow them to add these things, just in a way the won’t fubar the OS.

      • Anonymous

        Well hopefully Android’s future is brighter because of these steps. If I made phones, I would differentiate by providing a highly compatible solid pure Android experience with the addition of user friendly tutorials showing you how you can use and customize your phone to make it absolutely perfect for you. I think a lot of users have no idea how awesome Android is.

      • Proprietary_Android

        I agree. That’s basically what I thought Nokia should have done instead of being sucked into the MS vacuum. It would have been great to see Nokia hardware with a highly optimized stock Android with their added services and some great software specific for their devices–their camera quality alone would set them apart.

        I do think that some of these companies really just need to make some great apps that are for their devices only. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer has an app that’s built in that will allow you to control any of your computers remotely–how nice is that for free? They also have integrated cloud storage but right now that’s only free for the first year, no word on how much after that. Nonetheless, things like that with a well designed form factor with top quality hardware would get me over any of these UI implementations.

        But these companies are stuck in the “lock in” mentality and cant get their heads around simple ideas that would make them first choice for most Android users. Not to mention good branding of their products–seems they’ve all pretty much bailed on making a line/brand that develops loyalty in customers. Heck, I remember back in the 70′s and 80′s how loyal customers were to brands like HP and TI. But they’ve all gone to cheap manufacturing and do nothing to develop brand loyalty any more. . . instead resorting to a gimmicky UI.

        OK. . . rant over ;)

      • Anonymous

        Well hopefully Android’s future is brighter because of these steps. If I made phones, I would differentiate by providing a highly compatible solid pure Android experience with the addition of user friendly tutorials showing you how you can use and customize your phone to make it absolutely perfect for you. I think a lot of users have no idea how awesome Android is.

  • Lee

    I think there is a risk here, in that if google were to become more restrictive in future releases, in an attempt to reduce fragmentation, could end up increasing fragmentation, as manufacturers take what thay got and take it in a different direction not controlled by google, as long as they provide alternative markets like Amazon Appstore or Xperia Play store.

  • Lee

    I think there is a risk here, in that if google were to become more restrictive in future releases, in an attempt to reduce fragmentation, could end up increasing fragmentation, as manufacturers take what thay got and take it in a different direction not controlled by google, as long as they provide alternative markets like Amazon Appstore or Xperia Play store.

    • Proprietary_Android

      Yes, OEM’s certainly can do that. However, it will most likely be that over time their devices won’t run apps properly nor will they get any Google services or the “with Google” logo.

      In other words, they will have a completely different OS.

      Personally, I doubt they will go this route. Most know how difficult it is to develop a viable OS especially if they are the only company with that OS.

      • Lee

        It was exposed that Motorola has such plans, you don’t think others are keeping their options open? And are Google services and it’s logo valuable enough for OEMs to tolerate not being able to differentiate themselves from other android devices? Don’t forget also there is now risk associated with Android, with a patent lawsuit lingering in the background.

      • Proprietary_Android

        Oh, I’m sure they are all trying to keep their options open. The question is, are those options really viable. Moto already failed with its own OS as have others. Samsung still has Bada but will it ever have enough market presence to be truly worth developing?

        It’s not only Google’s services and logo that these companies want/need. It really is what these anti-fragmentation measures bring–properly working apps on a wide range of hardware = a rich ecosystem of developers and apps. Without that any OS is dead, and Google understands that. They know that Android needs an ecosystem in which developers can thrive otherwise there won’t be good apps and the devs will go to platforms that are easier to develop for and monotize on.

        No one is saying that OEMs won’t be able to differentiate. They just can’t integrate software however they like. They simply have to follow the guidelines. That’s all there is to it. They will still be able to differentiate and most likely have their own UI implementations. Just not in a way that breaks Android. That’s the whole key here. Google is NOT telling them they can’t add software or they can’t have a custom UI. They ARE saying, do it in a way that does NOT fragment Android and Google is working with anyone & everyone that wants to participate to make this all happen.

        People are getting way off track with what’s going on just because of a few very bad articles most likely coming from pro-apple perspectives.

        Let me give you an example. Asus complained that their new live wallpaper for the Transformer tablet might not be allowed by Google. It’s a live wallpaper that has ice floating in water to reflect the current charge of the battery. Why would Google have a problem with this? Because Asus implemented it in a non-standard way => fragmentation. In other words, Asus is complaining that Google isn’t going to allow this live wallpaper because Asus did NOT follow the proper guidelines to implement it. Basically, Asus is bitching about Google because Asus did some shotty programming. They can have that same wallpaper most likely. They just have to integrate it properly. That’s what all the fuss is about–companies doing whatever they want however they want regardless of how fubared Android becomes in the process and now some of them are crying like children because Google has said that they won’t allow that to happen any longer for anyone in the OHA working with the latest Android version getting Google apps and trademark.

        Clearly, any OS that wants to be viable and have a rich ecosystem of apps must NOT allow OEMs to implement software changes in a non-standard way that causes fragmentation.

        I hope this make my point clearer.

        About the legal issues. As Bill Gates and others have said, these lawsuits need to take place so that they can all sort out what is what in this new mobile arena. Also, part of this anti-fragmentation program, from what I’ve read, is to work with SoC manufacturers to integrate a Java VM into the chip itself so Google can dump Dalvik all together. So, there is a lot to be said in this area and I doubt any of the major OEMs are worried. They know it’s par for the course to have lawsuits to sort all this stuff out.

      • Proprietary_Android

        Oh, I’m sure they are all trying to keep their options open. The question is, are those options really viable. Moto already failed with its own OS as have others. Samsung still has Bada but will it ever have enough market presence to be truly worth developing?

        It’s not only Google’s services and logo that these companies want/need. It really is what these anti-fragmentation measures bring–properly working apps on a wide range of hardware = a rich ecosystem of developers and apps. Without that any OS is dead, and Google understands that. They know that Android needs an ecosystem in which developers can thrive otherwise there won’t be good apps and the devs will go to platforms that are easier to develop for and monotize on.

        No one is saying that OEMs won’t be able to differentiate. They just can’t integrate software however they like. They simply have to follow the guidelines. That’s all there is to it. They will still be able to differentiate and most likely have their own UI implementations. Just not in a way that breaks Android. That’s the whole key here. Google is NOT telling them they can’t add software or they can’t have a custom UI. They ARE saying, do it in a way that does NOT fragment Android and Google is working with anyone & everyone that wants to participate to make this all happen.

        People are getting way off track with what’s going on just because of a few very bad articles most likely coming from pro-apple perspectives.

        Let me give you an example. Asus complained that their new live wallpaper for the Transformer tablet might not be allowed by Google. It’s a live wallpaper that has ice floating in water to reflect the current charge of the battery. Why would Google have a problem with this? Because Asus implemented it in a non-standard way => fragmentation. In other words, Asus is complaining that Google isn’t going to allow this live wallpaper because Asus did NOT follow the proper guidelines to implement it. Basically, Asus is bitching about Google because Asus did some shotty programming. They can have that same wallpaper most likely. They just have to integrate it properly. That’s what all the fuss is about–companies doing whatever they want however they want regardless of how fubared Android becomes in the process and now some of them are crying like children because Google has said that they won’t allow that to happen any longer for anyone in the OHA working with the latest Android version getting Google apps and trademark.

        Clearly, any OS that wants to be viable and have a rich ecosystem of apps must NOT allow OEMs to implement software changes in a non-standard way that causes fragmentation.

        I hope this make my point clearer.

        About the legal issues. As Bill Gates and others have said, these lawsuits need to take place so that they can all sort out what is what in this new mobile arena. Also, part of this anti-fragmentation program, from what I’ve read, is to work with SoC manufacturers to integrate a Java VM into the chip itself so Google can dump Dalvik all together. So, there is a lot to be said in this area and I doubt any of the major OEMs are worried. They know it’s par for the course to have lawsuits to sort all this stuff out.

      • Lee

        I think you have good points but I think you deviated from my original statement to make those points. I think Google is approaching the edge (I’m not saying they are at the edge) of what would be acceptable, the closer they get to that edge the more viable the options become. And in regard to the viability of other options, keep in mind they don’t necessarily have to develope their own software ecosystem, they just need to be able to run software from other ecosystems.

        Part of the problem also, is that Google can *potentially* slow down innovation and development. For example if Google doesn’t provide an API for game controllers, active digitizer stylus, stereoscopic 3d, those types of things would wait on google to create the API before they become available, some may take very long because google may not see value in them.

        Take for example Microsoft, despite many gamers, software developers wanting stereoscopic 3d, Microsoft has never officially added it to Direct3D, in fact in regards to S3D Microsoft has gone on record as stating they don’t care about it because they are not in the business of selling 3D TVs. And despite Microsofts attitude, they have never prevented nVidia iz3d or tridef from creating software which enables stereoscopic 3D for PC games.

        Apple is an example of a company who locks others out from innovating on their platform, they are the opposite of what Android currently is, and it shows. When you look at all the choices consumers have in Android and with iOS you get what ever Apple feels you should get. Want 3D, want a real stylus, to bad, you will get it when ever Apple feels like it. The same is even true of their Appstore, where if an app ‘duplicates’ functionality of one of their apps, is grounds for rejection, even if that app does it better.

        Not that Google is setting itself up with that kind of power and not that even if Google did that it would be just as bad as Apple or Microsoft, but more so, if such a perception were to start ocurring among OEMs, their strategies will change, other options become more viable.

  • Xguntherc

    Great read… oh so true

  • http://twitter.com/andyhall89 Andrew Hall

    I think all OEM’s should be obligated to ship stock versions of Android with their phones so that they can be updated as soon as possible as new versions are released. They can then optionally offer their own skinned versions of Android to download, at any version they want. That way the consumer gets the choice but those who don’t particularly care are guaranteed to always have the latest version of Android on their phones.

  • http://twitter.com/andyhall89 Andrew Hall

    I think all OEM’s should be obligated to ship stock versions of Android with their phones so that they can be updated as soon as possible as new versions are released. They can then optionally offer their own skinned versions of Android to download, at any version they want. That way the consumer gets the choice but those who don’t particularly care are guaranteed to always have the latest version of Android on their phones.

  • http://webhostingreview.info/cheap-hosting/ Cheap Hosting Reviews

    Very good, android is the king!!..