Google has largely allowed OEMs to take Android and do with it what they will for smartphones and tablets, but things could be changing in a big way for the rest of the devices now officially supported by Android. According to Ars Technica, Google has confirmed that they will not allow OEMs to make deep changes to Android Wear, Android Auto and Android TV devices.
OEMs will be able to provide a collection of their own pre-installed apps, custom watch faces and other features that don’t require much deep scrubbing of the Android framework, but they won’t be able to get down and dirty and change the core of it. Google’s official reasoning? Here’s the gist of it according to Google engineering director David Burke:
The UI is more part of the product in this case. We want to just have a very consistent user experience, so if you have one TV in one room and another TV in another room and they both say Android TV, we want them to work the same and look the same. The device manufacturers can brand it, and they might have services that they want to include with it, but otherwise it should be the same.
We imagine it’s about a bit more than that. These platforms are all still very new for Google. They might be built on Android (which has matured greatly since its commercial debut in 2008), but we likely aren’t anywhere near maturity for its new home on these new classes of devices. Google’s surely going to have many updates to issue as they continue to refine these new platforms, and they won’t want early users to have to wait forever for them.
That’s just a hunch, though, and there’s no telling if Google is ever going to loosen up on these restrictions. You might be asking yourself why Google would do this if Android is supposed to be open source. Well, their Google Now platform isn’t. Google Play isn’t. Many of their services aren’t.
What’s truly “free” and “open source” is the Android Open Source Project, and OEMs (or even a lone independent developer) are free to use that however they please. But if they want to play in the new sandboxes introduced at Google IO last week they’ll have to accept Google’s new rules. All for the better I’d say.