Android operating system has been tremendously successful. It's become
the top selling phone platform in the world and its app store is stocked with
close to 200,000 apps. But for all that success, a perpetual criticism is
a perception that Android's environment is too heterogeneous across various handsets --
part of this is due to carriers/hardware partners failing to roll out the
latest versions, but part of it is due to customizations such as Motorola's
Motoblur and HTC's Sense UI.
I. Bye Bye Open Source -- For Now
Perhaps that's part of why Google has decided why not to release the source
code for Android 3.0 "Honeycomb", yet.
The company states that the code isn't ready yet for external modification,
despite the fact that products are being sold with it installed, today.
Aside from preventing unwanted third-party user interfaces, the chief goal of
the delay is ostensibly from preventing Honeycomb (Android 3.0) from being put
on smartphones. Google is pressuring smartphone makers to instead use Android 2.3 "Gingerbread". Google
is also less-than-enthusiastic about Honeycomb entering other devices, like
set-top boxes and automobiles, without further modification.
Andy Rubin, vice-president for engineering at Google and head of its Android
group essentially admits that the move is being made to prevent the platform
from heading, in its current state, to places Google didn't intend. In a BusinessWeek interview,
he states, "To make our schedule to ship the tablet, we made some
design tradeoffs. We didn't want to think about what it would take for the same
software to run on phones. It would have required a lot of additional resources
and extended our schedule beyond what we thought was reasonable. So we took a
He adds, "Android is an open-source project. We have not changed our
Then he makes an even more surprising statement -- he says that if his company
released Android's source, it couldn't prevent phone makers from putting it in
a phone form-factor "and creating a really bad user experience. We have no
idea if it will even work on phones."
That statement is intriguing because it sounds a lot like arguments against open
source operating systems that one of Android's top competitors, Apple, made in
recent years. And while the delay doesn't mean Google has closed its
project off from the public, it does indicate that the company is increasingly
seeing eye to eye with Apple on this issue.
Dave Rosenberg, a longtime executive in the open-source software world,
complains about the decision, but admits, "Everyone expects this level of
complete trust from a company that's worth $185 billion. To me, that is
ridiculous. You have to be realistic and see that Google will do what is in
[its] best interests at all times.
II. What Will the Impact of Google's Newfound Selectiveness Be?
Ultimately this issue will supposedly be washed away with Android 3.5 "Ice
Cream Sandwich", which will unify the smartphone (Gingerbread) and tablet
(Honeycomb) trees into a single operating system.
In the meantime, it's possible Google could make stop-gap modifications to
improve the Honeycomb experience on smart phones, and release a minor update.
Mr. Rubin states, "The team is hard at work looking at what it takes
to get this running on other devices."
It's hard to say how the move will affect sales.
Sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab were quite good, despite the interface (Android 2.2
Froyo)feeling clunky on a tablet. By contrast the
Motorola Xoom offers a vastly superior UI in Honeycomb, yet has struggled in sales.
Part of this may be due to price -- the Tab debuted at $399 USD on at least one network,
while the Xoom debuted at $799 USD.
The true test of whether the decision to close off the platform should be soon
at hand, though. The Xoom has dropped in price, with a Wi-Fi version launch on Sunday at $599 USD. And Samsung
will soon air a second generation Galaxy Tab 8.9-inch tablet
for $469 USD and a a 10.1-inch variant for $499 USD, rumored to launch on June
8. Dell also looks to soon air updated versions of its "Streak"
Android tablets, at competitive prices.
Despite that the decision to temporarily close the source may benefit Google
and its customers experience, not everyone is happy with it.
Eben Moglen, a professor of Law at Columbia Law School and the founding
director of the Software Freedom Law Center, argues that Google is repeating
the mistakes of industry giants like Apple. He states, "[Closing
your source is] usually a mistake. Long experience teaches people that exposing
the code to the community helps more than it hurts you."