Sep, 25 2009

If you haven’t heard about the cease and desist letter that Google sent to famed Android OS modder Cyanogen, I suggest you read up before continuing this post. Google has posted a “response” of sorts, hoping to clear the air of their good name in light of “misconceptions” amidst the criticism. Here is an excerpt of that response, posted by Dan Morrill on the Android Developers Blog.

dan-morrell

Everyone knows that mobile is a big deal, but for a long time it was hard to be a mobile app developer. Competing interests and the slow pace of platform innovation made it hard to create innovative apps. For our part, Google offers a lot of services — such as Google Search, Google Maps, and so on — and we found delivering those services to users’ phones to be a very frustrating experience. But we also found that we weren’t alone, so we formed the Open Handset Alliance, a group of like-minded partners, and created Android to be the platform that we all wished we had. To encourage broad adoption, we arranged for Android to be open-source. Google also created and operates Android Market as a service for developers to distribute their apps to Android users. In other words, we created Android because the industry needed an injection of openness. Today, we’re thrilled to see all the enthusiasm that developers, users, and others in the mobile industry have shown toward Android.

With a high-quality open platform in hand, we then returned to our goal of making our services available on users’ phones. That’s why we developed Android apps for many of our services like YouTube, Gmail, Google Voice, and so on. These apps are Google’s way of benefiting from Android in the same way that any other developer can, but the apps are not part of the Android platform itself. We make some of these apps available to users of any Android-powered device via Android Market, and others are pre-installed on some phones through business deals. Either way, these apps aren’t open source, and that’s why they aren’t included in the Android source code repository. Unauthorized distribution of this software harms us just like it would any other business, even if it’s done with the best of intentions.

If I had to sum up each paragraph in one sentence it would be:

  1. The mobile industry sucked so we made Android and now the world is awesome
  2. We built applications for Android that are separate entities from the OS itself… they are just apps you would find from any developer on the market and we negotiate business deals if companies want them pre-installed on the phone

He then goes on to conclude:

I hope that clears up some of the confusion around Google’s apps for Android. We always love seeing novel uses of Android, including custom Android builds from developers who see a need. I look forward to seeing what comes next!

He officially APPROVES of these custom builds of Android, but when Cyanogen includes GMail/YouTube/GTalk and other Google applications in his ROMs for free, it hurts their business. How? Because Google is making deals with carriers and manufacturers who likely have to PAY to feature these Google applications pre-installed on their phones and advertise/market that these are included.

It is all about legalities. And a HUGE part of the legal system is setting precedence. I assume that Google was afraid it let Cyanogen continue to cook up these custom ROMs with Google applications baked in, they would lose the right and authority to prevent carriers and manufacturers from featuring Google applications on their phones by default.

This brings up a couple more interesting questions:

What about the Motorola CLIQ?
A few days ago we saw the Motorola CLIQ claiming it would come with a TON of pre-installed apps. When Motorola got wind of the word getting around, they removed the content from their website and now the CLIQ doesn’t show ANY apps pre-loaded. I’m assuming that is because they have to play by the same rules as Cyanogen. They can’t just include applications on their phones pre-installed without permission or an agreement. And from the graphic we posted… I’m just not so sure Motorola had worked out agreements for every last one of them to put it lightly.

How does this change the Mod community for the future?
One could easily argue that custom ROMs feature HTC Sense, MOTOBLUR and other custom versions of Android are absolutely 100% illegal to distribute. HTC and Motorola work hard on creating these softwares and offering them for free – so you can download them and use them on any Android phone when you didn’t pay a dime – amounts to nothing more than pirating. Please read that previous statement in terms of how one COULD potentially view the situation, not necessarily how I feel or any company mentioned feels.

Whether you like it or not this is a turn for the worse for Android… but it was a road we were going to HAVE to go down sooner rather than later. And in all honesty, it is probably better that Google nipped it in the bud and filed the C&D themselves instead of a billion smaller companies tossing lawsuits here and there and everywhere. In fact, Google probably saw the issue with Cyanogen as an opportunity to set the record straight so it could protect its partners and allies in the OHA. In other words, you could say that Google “took one for the team” by agreeing to look like the bad guy and formally intervene.

So now what?
I have no clue. This is a pretty vague yet reasonable response from Google. This is the exact reason that I tried to show restraint in my original post on the topic. The initial idea is to flip out and go bananas about how this is a violation of trust in the Open Source community yada yada yada – which many people did. But there is a lot more to it than that and I think anyone looking at this issue objectively would agree.

I’ll be trying to get in touch with Cyanogen and a rep from the Android team to hopefully clarify how this affects the future and what will/won’t be allowed. In the meantime, try to relax. Android is still – by far – the best mobile platform on the planet… and I’m sure there is a happy medium we’ll all be able to find once this whole thing plays out.