Google has spent a lot of time touting how its Android operating system is the better choice in the mobile OS wars due to its open source nature. The concept has been that shortly after the company rolls out a new version of the software, it is made available as a free download for anyone to tweak as they see fit and then place it into any device they want such as phones, tablets, televisions and so on. This is what led to so many tablets being released with Android 2.2 Froyo, a version of the OS that even Google itself said was not meant to be placed on device of that screen size, but that’s what happens when you just release your code on to the Internet.
Things appear to be changing slightly now in the case of Android 3.0 Honeycomb. First appearing on the Motorola Xoom, and soon on numerous other tablets, Google has yet to release the source code for this particular version of the software. According to an interview in Bloomberg Businessweek with Andy Rubin, vice-president for engineering at Google and head of its Android group, the software is not quite as ready for the world of developers as previous versions. “To make our schedule to ship the tablet, we made some design tradeoffs,” Mr. Rubin said. “We didn’t want to think about what it would take for the same software to run on phones. It would have required a lot of additional resources and extended our schedule beyond what we thought was reasonable. So we took a shortcut.” He went on to say that Google is keeping the source code from the public because “we have no idea if it will even work on phones.”
Not satisfied with that answer, Bloomberg Businessweek did some following up on their talk with Rubin. It seems that Google is not only holding back Honeycomb, but also telling manufacturers that more of their plans need to be cleared with the company. According to their findings, from here on out, if a company wants the earliest possible access to the latest software, they’re going to have to have their plans for it approved by Google. Apparently companies already impacted by this new policy include LG, Samsung, Toshiba and even Facebook which is said to be working on an Android-powered device. Sources familiar with the matter say that the U.S. Department of Justice has already been talked to over these new issues, and we can’t say that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
To call yourself an “open source” project means people are supposed to be able to do with it as they please. Imagine if you were suddenly told what you can do with WordPress, the popular blogging software. As it stands now, you can install and do with it as you please, but what if you suddenly had to go to them and spell out all of your plans for them to give you access, would you still consider that an “open” situation? Doubtful.
The only potential upside in all of this could be less fragmentation in the Android landscape. Considering we have phones coming out weekly that are running any number of different versions of the OS, it’s been difficult for developers to decide where they should focus their development dollars. Perhaps it would be better if Google just had a friendly chat with companies as opposed to laying down some sort of approval process? By deciding that approval now must be given for a supposedly “open” platform teeters dangerously close to the “evi;” that Google so desperately wants to avoid.
Things are definitely getting interesting in the Google landscape, and only time will tell if it’s for the better.
What do you think? Should Google be exerting more control over Android?