Recent new stories have brought into question the extent to which Android remains truly open source. According to reports from media outlets such as Bloomberg Businessweek, Google (News - Alert) is now taking a firmer hand in controlling software tweaks, partnerships related to Android, and approvals. Google, which declined to be interviewed for this piece, is discounting all this.
Here’s an excerpt from the above-mentioned story in late March: “Over the last couple of months Google has reached out to the major carriers and device makers backing its mobile operating system with a message: There will be no more willy-nilly tweaks to the software. No more partnerships formed outside of Google's purview. From now on, companies hoping to receive early access to Google's most up-to-date software will need approval of their plans. And they will seek that approval from Andy Rubin, the head of Google's Android (News - Alert) group.
This is the new reality described by about a dozen executives working at key companies in the Android ecosystem. Some of those affected include LG, Toshiba, Samsung, and even Facebook (News - Alert), which has been trying to develop an Android device. There have been enough run-ins to trigger complaints with the Justice Dept., according to a person familiar with the matter.
In an April 6 blog, Andy Rubin, vice president of engineering, responded by writing:
“Recently, there’s been a lot of misinformation in the press about Android and Google’s role in supporting the ecosystem. I’m writing in the spirit of transparency and in an attempt to set the record straight. The Android community has grown tremendously since the launch of the first Android device in October 2008, but throughout we’ve remained committed to fostering the development of an open platform for the mobile industry and beyond.”
Rubin goes on to write: “As always, device makers are free to modify Android to customize any range of features for Android devices. This enables device makers to support the unique and differentiating functionality of their products. If someone wishes to market a device as Android-compatible or include Google applications on the device, we do require the device to conform with some basic compatibility requirements. (After all, it would not be realistic to expect Google applications – or any applications for that matter – to operate flawlessly across incompatible devices). Our ‘anti-fragmentation’ program has been in place since Android 1.0 and remains a priority for us to provide a great user experience for consumers and a consistent platform for developers. In fact, all of the founding members of the Open Handset Alliance (News - Alert) agreed not to fragment Android when we first announced it in 2007. Our approach remains unchanged: there are no lock-downs or restrictions against customizing UIs. There are not, and never have been, any efforts to standardize the platform on any single chipset architecture.”
The Google veep offers an assurance that Android will continue to be an open source platform and will continue releasing source code when it is ready.
“As I write this the Android team is still hard at work to bring all the new Honeycomb features to phones,” he adds. “As soon as this work is completed, we’ll publish the code. This temporary delay does not represent a change in strategy. We remain firmly committed to providing Android as an open source platform across many device types.”
Edited by Jennifer Russell