Google clamps down on handset makers to stem Android fragmentation

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
Frustrated by handset manufacturers who have taken too many liberties in modifying the open source Android mobile operating system, Google has reportedly begun to restrict its partners and discourage them from making drastic changes that fragment the platform.



The change in strategy from Google was revealed this week by BusinessWeek, as the search giant has reportedly made an effort to stop unnecessary tweaks to the Android software, as well as partnerships for products that compete with Google, like Microsoft Bing. Companies who want to stay in Google's good graces and be among the first to receive new builds of Android to create hardware will need to be given approval for changes from Andy Rubin, the company's vice president of engineering.



Google's recent moves are characterized as "far more discriminating" than they were at first: The company reportedly gives a "head start" to device and chipmakers who "abide by" Google's rules for Android. Google is looking to maintain momentum for Android as its presence on a wide range of device has helped it to overtake Apple's iOS in terms of platform-specific marketshare.



The new approach aims to address a trend with Android known as fragmentation, where handset makers and carriers begin to modify and change the open source Android platform to such an extent that basic features of the operating system are removed or drastically changed.



In one of the more extreme examples, the Samsung Fascinate handset for Verizon features Bing as the default and only search option on the device. The report cited two people who said that Google has tried to "hold up" the release of Verizon Android devices that use Bing.



"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," authors Ashlee Vance and Peter Burrows wrote.



"Google's Rubin says that such clauses have always been part of the Android license, but people interviewed for this story say that Google has recently tightened its policies. Facebook, for example, has been working to fashion its own variant of Android for smartphones. Executives at the social network are unhappy that Google gets to review Facebook's tweaks to Android, say two people who weren't comfortable being named talking about the business."



The report characterizes handset makers who are in Google's good graces as part of a "club" that sees benefits, such as exposure and sales for partners like HTC, Qualcomm, Nvidia and Motorola who worked with Google to create hardware like the Nexus One or Xoom tablet. Those on the outside, like Dell and Acer, aren't given a head-start in building new Android hardware, and as a result their products become available several months after competitors.



BusinessWeek also cited a source that said Google's recent steps to place control over devices that run Android have prompted hardware makers to file complaints to the U.S. Justice Department.



Though it has long heralded Android as "open," Google has recently taken other steps to gain control of its mobile platform. Just last week, it was revealed that the company had closed availability of the source code of Android 3.0 Honeycomb, a tablet-specific version of its platform.



The search giant justified the move by saying that the software, currently found on the Motorola Xoom tablet, is not yet ready for use on smartphones. The company indicated it did not want outside developers or enthusiasts experimenting with Android 3.0 Honeycomb in unauthorized ways.



Rubin maintained that Android remains an open-source project, but acknowledged that his company "took a shortcut" in preventing developers from putting Honeycomb into phones. He said Google is afraid that such a move could create "a really bad user experience. We have no idea if it will even work on phones."



While Google has maintained that Android is open, rival Apple and its chief executive, Steve Jobs, have taken issue with Google's use of the word. In a surprise appearance on his company's quarterly earnings call last October, Jobs criticized the growing fragmentation of Android, and called Google's characterization of Android as "open" a "disingenuous" claim.



"The first thing we think of when we hear open is Windows, which is available on a lot of devices," Jobs said. "Unlike Windows, where PCs have the same interface, Android is very fragmented. HTC and Motorola install proprietary user interfaces to differentiate themselves. The user is left to figure it out."



He continued: "In reality we think the open vs. closed argument is just a smokescreen to try and hide the real issue which is: What's best for the customer, fragmented or integrated? We think Android is very fragmented and becoming more fragmented by the day. We prefer integrated so the user doesn't have to be the systems integrator."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 144
    tbelltbell Posts: 3,146member
    Wow. Isn't that against the principle of open in Google's mind? Google claims the benefit is developers can do what they want with the OS.
  • Reply 2 of 144
    mactommactom Posts: 1member
    Seems like Google is learning that user experience becomes much more important than openness. There are always trade-offs, but keeping the customer happy should be the most important.
  • Reply 3 of 144
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,988member
    So Google is now moving to make its Android platform more like Apple's iOS platform. How ironical.
  • Reply 4 of 144
    paul94544paul94544 Posts: 1,027member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by TBell View Post


    Wow. Isn't that against the principle of open in Google's mind? Google claims the benefit is developers can do what they want with the OS.



    Since google is now God it has redefined what the word "open" means



    Remember the word "free" used to mean free before the Internet came along lol



    We are living in George Orwell 1984 after all where the elite redefines language for us
  • Reply 5 of 144
    All Androids are Open?, but some are more Open? than others.



    I can't wait for some of our resident Fandroids to start trying to spin this. "Android is still more Open? than Apple, because...because...Steve Jobs! Control Freak! Walled Garden! You can't just download Darwin and...oh, wait a minute...."
  • Reply 6 of 144
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Paul94544 View Post


    Since google is now God it has redefined what the word "open" means



    Remember the word "free" used to mean free before the Internet came along lol



    We are living in George Orwell 1984 after all where the elite redefines language for us



    Jinx! You owe me a Coke. (Or vice versa?)
  • Reply 7 of 144
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,814member
    So much for "open - good, closed - bad". In truth, that has always been trumped by "money - good, no money - bad". Nothing wrong with that, after all it's a business. Just funny to see sanctimonious Google pretending not to eat its own words while eating its own words.
  • Reply 8 of 144
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,814member
    Content deleted by poster.
  • Reply 9 of 144
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Is there any sane person here who didn’t see this coming?
  • Reply 10 of 144
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,814member
    Can hardly wait for DED to make hay on this.
  • Reply 11 of 144
    nasseraenasserae Posts: 3,167member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    Is there any sane person here who didn?t see this coming?



    You know what the next logical step? charging for it.
  • Reply 12 of 144
    Google has just shut the door.
  • Reply 12 of 144
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by NasserAE View Post


    You know what the next logical step? charging for it.



    They already charge for their apps on Android.



    I think the wake up for Google wasn?t the fragmentation (which was obvious from day one), but when vendors and carriers started removing Google Search from the device. I don?t think they thought that would happen.
  • Reply 14 of 144
    jcsegenmdjcsegenmd Posts: 105member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by tundraboy View Post


    Content deleted by poster.



    BUT



    whilst we all say ironic, ironical is correct, it's just that adding the -al sounds "off"



    AL has been disappearing from medical English for decades (I should know, I write medical dictionaries), and there is no rhyme or reason as to when something is pathologic or pathological, physiologic or physiological, microbiological or microbiologic (you get the point). I suspect eventually somebody will bury Al and we won't even have a funeral



    Joe Segen
  • Reply 15 of 144
    This is the only thing that will save Android. With too many changes there will never be a way to properly upgrade the OS. There needs to be the OS and the apps. If the OS changes too much then apps won't work properly on multiple devices.



    How many people does it take to really create a good operating system? How many people did it take to create iOS, not the apps, the OS?



    Why doesn't Sony, Toshiba, Dell, or any other computer manufacturer create their own OS for their computers and phones?
  • Reply 16 of 144
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jcsegenmd View Post


    AL has been disappearing from medical English for decades (I should know, I write medical dictionaries), and there is no rhyme or reason as to when something is pathologic or pathological, physiologic or physiological, microbioogical or microbiologic (you get the point). I suspect eventually somebody will bury Al and we won't even have a funeral.



    That sounds illogic.
  • Reply 17 of 144
    I know Apple has had missteps recently...but they don't seem to be so contrary to their fundamental principals. Producing superior hardware with superior software.



    Google just seems to be all over the place, throwing crap against the wall and seeing what sticks. This is what MS used to do. I spoke with an MS engineer years ago and he said MS puts out their OS's about 75% complete and then based on user complaints prioritizes what needs to be fixed first. Uggh!



    No thanks Google, MS, RIM, HP, Sony. You had your chance.
  • Reply 18 of 144
    I see Google have finally realised what a mistake it was to make the system 100% open source.



    The best software on the market is either closed source and produced by expert developers, or is only partially open sourced, or is Completely Open Source but is STRICTLY reviewed before the code submitted is actually added to the final product.



    Android was just a crazed free for all. It was the equivalent to giving someone a photoshop document (lets assume 'Android.psd') and handling them full access to every tool at their disposal. Clear the canvas, draw what the hell you want in there, package it and drop it on your device! Its not the same system anymore, but its okay, its still called 'Android.psd'.
  • Reply 19 of 144
    tenobelltenobell Posts: 7,014member
    I agree that its clear why they had to do this. The problem with it is that they do not directly address the mantra of openness and the pitfalls of that philosophy.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    Is there any sane person here who didn?t see this coming?



  • Reply 20 of 144
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,940member
    But... but... Android is open!!! That's what the Fandroids constantly tell us!!

    But... but... Android lets us do whatever we want to the OS!!! That's what Google tells us!

    But... but... beer is free!!!! oh.. wait...



    Is it possible to believe that having control of the platform is better than the free-for-all-wild-west mentality that has been going on all this time??



    Unless Google locks Android down completely (which it won't), Android by its nature will always have a good level of fragmentation. How will it police the numerous, global handset, and future tablet makers that want to differentiate their product from everyone else?



    Sounds like Windows all over again.
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