The recent flurry of words from Google regarding Android and the non-release of Honeycombs source code, followed up by a story I previously wrote about, has now a formal response from Andy Rubin. In recent weeks I’ve been pondering what the problem with Android and it’s openness really is. The problem stems from perspective: the average end-user, the tech-geek, the developer and the hardware manufacturer - covered in reverse order.
Open to the Hardware Manufacturer means: No licencing fees to pay for its usage on your product, and the ability to customise the operating system user interface and applications any way you want to without interference from Google. Is Android open for them? Yes there are no licence fees, but No Google are now going to interfere if you want the latest build.
Open to the Developer means: being able to write whatever application they want and it hosted on the Android Market without being held to a very long list of User Interface guidelines and rules about what APIs they can and can’t use. Seriously though, developers need to make money and if people are buying a lot of Android applications then developers are interested - curation is not as big a deal as they make out. The problem is that iOS is currently leading that charge despite the fact Android has a bigger market share. Is Android open for them? Yes, but in the business of making money, it doesn’t matter if it is or isn’t.
Open for the Tech-Geek means: being able to root, hack and modify the software to make it do what you want it to do. Is Android open for them? Yes. But then, so is iOS if you jailbreak it.
Open for the Average End-User means: being able to install any application you desire from anywhere - like you can on Windows or a Mac. Android phones have an option to allow installation of applications from outside the Android Market. Is Android open for them? Yes.
When Andy Rubin wanted to keep Honeycomb source under wraps they were saying - we’re still polishing the OS and it’s not ready for general use yet. This is a bad sign for software releases, but as I said Google have a bit to learn from Microsoft and Apple about that.
When Andy Rubin wanted more involvement in the decisions of the Hardware Manufacturers tweaking the Android user interface, he wanted to get some control back and in so doing he seriously crimped one of the key reasons Hardware Manufacturers (like HTC, Samsung and Motorola) found Android to be open.
Googles problem is they really have four types of customer - and you can’t please them all. Is it open? For some it is. Without Hardware Manufacturers there would be none of the other three customer types. So the real question is if the Hardware Manufacturers decide that Google is not giving them the freedom they need to make their own software design choices they will go elsewhere to another platform that will. If that happens, Android will die.
Google must tread very carefully now or risk losing its key partnerships that have built Android from nothing.
That said, if this whole Android thing doesn’t work out in the end, hey, Android could end up another Buzz or another Wave. Google don’t care. So long as they keep getting their Ad revenue through search they will never truly care and will tread heavily and however they like - customers, manufacturers and developers be damned.