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Android: Closed is Open, Freedom is Slavery

A couple of snippets from Is Android Evil? | VisionMobile :: blog. First, on why the handset makers love Android:

[In] an Android handset, most of the OEM budget goes into differentiation; compare that to Symbian where most of the OEM budget goes into baseporting (radio and functional integration of hardware) due to historical choices made by Symbian in 2001. All-in-all, Android allows OEMs to reduce their R&D budgets and invest in differentiation, which is mana from heaven to manufacturers.

We should also not forget the ‘free factor’ (technically zero per-unit royalties for the public SDK) which stirred the emotional hype around Android handsets.

Free and mostly complete is good. Of course, as my dad used to say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch:

Little is known about the anti-fragmentation agreement signed by [Open Handset Alliance] members but we understand it’s a commitment to not release handsets which are not [compliant with the CTS (compatibility test suite), ...] which is the formal testing process by which a handset passes Google requirements. According to our sources, CTS extends significantly beyond API compliance, and into performance testing, hardware features, device design, UI specs and bundled services. CTS is based on the principle of ensuring baseline compliance, so it’s ok to add features, but it’s not ok to detract; compare this with Apple’s no-Flash policy. Note that beyond CTS compliance, there are additional commercial licensing agreements that OEMs have to sign for Google services and private line access.

So this means Google did attempt to put in some provisions to combat fragmentation. All handsets have to meet a minimum set of requirements and offer a minimum set of features. All well and good, but it’s still too easy for handset manufacturer or operator customizations to obscure the Android goodness as blessed by Google.

Of course, you could theoretically fork Android and create your own branch, but good luck with that:

Google holds the trademark to the Android name; as a manufacturer you can only leverage on the Android branding with approval from Google, much like how you need Sun’s approval to claim your handset is Java-powered.

In short, it’s either the Google way or the highway. If you want to branch off Android you’re completely on your own and you need resources of the size of China Mobile (see their OMS effort) to make it viable (hint: China Mobile is the biggest network operator bar none).

So there you have it. If you want to use Android, you must follow Google’s guidelines. Granted, there’s still some areas for innovation in this arrangement, but it certainly doesn’t sound as “open” as we were all led to believe.


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