When we think about Android, we often see it as the greener grass beyond the lucrative fence separating the dark and gloomy farm from the healthy-looking fields of grass, trees, and colorful selection of flora growing about. I understand that everyone may not buy into Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra as easily as others – and I get that it might not even ring true in everything that Google as a company does – but I’m finding it rather difficult to imagine how Android, of all other Google entities, could be considered evil.
Andreas Constantinou – a research director for VisionMobile Ltd. – voiced his opinion on the open nature of Google’s mobile OS on the company’s blog today claiming that “…Android might be the most closed system in the history of open source.” That one line in and of itself is more than enough reason for me to warrant a response to his opinion.
Alluding to Android’s success, Andreas outlined three “key” factors that spring-boarded the OS to where it is now: Apple, Qualcomm, and the carriers for which the phone exists. Specifically for Apple, every manufacturer’s dream to introduce the next proverbial “iPhone killer” makes Android the obvious route for the software that powers their hardware. Fine, we’ll accept that.
Next is carrier support. Network operators – such as Verizon and Sprint – coordinate with handset manufacturers – like HTC – specifically asking for more Android products to beef up their selection. The goal is to minimize costs while increasing interoperability and relatively fast concept-to-market turn-around driven by exclusive deals. Is any of this sounding ridiculous to you yet?
Finally, Andreas credits the third and final key to Qualcomm for creating a platform that supports Android out of the box – a move that should make sense in a world that quickly realized Android as the defacto third-party operating system for the future of the smartphone (and smart device) market.
These are all great points, but it almost sounds as if Andreas was using them against Android’s credit – almost as if it’s a bad thing that Android makes life easier for the guys that push it to the end user. Fortunately, he was just stepping up to a much bigger splash: Google and their ‘droid is more evil than RIM, Apple, Nokia, Microsoft, or Palm could or ever will be with their respective products.
The reasoning – which is the ridiculous part – is that Google merely “emulates” an open platform while pulling sheep’s wool over the eyes of everyone involved.
What’s even more fascinating is how closed Android is, despite Google’s do-no-evil mantra and the permissive Apache 2 license which Android SDK is under. Paraphrasing a famous line from Henry Ford’s book on the Model-T, anyone can have Android in their own colour as long as it’s black. Android is the best example of how a company can use open source to build up interest and community participation, while running a very tight commercial model.
Taking a quick look at the definition of “open source” provided to us by the Open Source Initiative – who is highly regarded as the authority in what “open source” is – I have to present the question: where is Google stepping outside of any lines to call Android so? Source code is readily available, compilable, downloadable, freely distributed, properly licensed, free to be modified (for use with any field without discrimination), and it definitely isn’t an OS that is restricted to be used on anything other than phones.
Instead, Andreas decides to attack Google’s admittedly closed process for Android’s official commercial fork. Not many users realize that the Android Open Source Project differs greatly from what we see in our mobile devices and the “versioned” updates that we expect OTA on those devices. While I’m not completely knowledgeable on Google’s reasoning, you have to imagine that they have very solid reasons for closing off certain parts of what they do with Android from the outside world.
I find it hard to believe that any OEM would allow a piece of software on their phone that isn’t developed with a carefully gated atmosphere: the methods that the responsible developer (in this case, Google) use to ensure that the software is safe, practical, and optimal for every day use could be a very private matter that should not extend outside of their company.
Let’s not forget that Google is still very much a corporation: they’ll never have goals and the practices to reach those goals that everyone will agree with. I respect Andreas’ comments regarding Android – and I appreciate that he at least acknowledges Android’s success and the factors that contributes to it – but if Android is considered evil by the definition of your 8-pronged list, then it’s just ludicrous to put Google or Android beneath any other mobile operating system or its vendors.
Is Android completely open source? That’s up to how you see it. Google designed it as a system that you can plug various components into, and some of those components that Google has a hold over just happens to be closed off to us common folk. By definition alone, Android is everything that Google said it would be, and you can’t take anything away from them because of that.
If you want to read Andreas’ full piece, head over to VisionMobile‘s corporate blog.