Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 21st Oct 2013 22:15 UTC, submitted by ddc_

Ars Technica has a great article about what, exactly, Google is doing to retain (or retake) control over Android. Many things were already known, and have, in fact, been discussed here before. For instance, the Open Handset Alliance prohibits its members from forking Android or using other companies' forks. This had been known for a long time, and has always been an important aspect of the OHA - its goal is to prevent the fragmentation of Android, after all. Another thing we've always known is that the Google Applications - like YouTube and such - have always been closed source, and that a license is required to use them (they are freely available though, and Android is completely usable about them.

There are two bigger problems, however. First, the more Google moves parts of Android to Google Play (such as the keyboard or calendar), the less open source Android becomes.

For some of these apps, there might still be an AOSP equivalent, but as soon as the proprietary version was launched, all work on the AOSP version was stopped. Less open source code means more work for Google's competitors. While you can't kill an open source app, you can turn it into abandonware by moving all continuing development to a closed source model. Just about any time Google rebrands an app or releases a new piece of Android onto the Play Store, it's a sign that the source has been closed and the AOSP version is dead.

There's definitely an opportunity here for groups like CyanogenMod - and in fact, that's exactly what's happening. For instance, CM has created the camera application Focal, which is available in the Play Store. In other words, most of the Google Applications can be recreated and improved upon easily, after which they can be placed in the Play Store. An exception, of course, is the Play Store application itself, but even that one has alternatives, such as the Amazon App Store.

A bigger problem, however, are the Google Play Services. This is an Android application - closed source - that provides developers with access to a whole bunch of Google's APIs. It's becoming more and more mandatory.

Taking the Android app ecosystem from Google seems easy: just get your own app store up and running, convince developers to upload their apps to it, and you're on your way. But the Google APIs that ship with Play Services are out to stop this by convincing developers to weave dependence on Google into their apps. Google's strategy with Google Play Services is to turn the "Android App Ecosystem" into the "Google Play Ecosystem" by making a developer's life as easy as possible on a Google-approved device - and as difficult as possible on a non-Google-approved device.

In other words, there's a lot going on at Google to prevent more forks, such as Kindle Fire, from happening. I had no issues with Google's own applications being closed source (you can easily replace them), but the Play Services are a much bigger issue. As more and more applications adopt Play Services, the harder it'll become to run Android 'Google free' - and that's not exactly an ideal situation.

Permalink for comment 575210
To read all comments associated with this story, please click here.
RE[4]: Huh?
by Tony Swash on Tue 22nd Oct 2013 11:45 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Huh?"
Tony Swash
Member since:

What idea?

I can check out the Android code, change it, build it, and run it. How is that not open?

In the real world you can do almost nothing with the Android code of any substance or impact without being essentially excluded from Google services, Google controlled APIs and the Open Handset Alliance. You can tinker, as long as nothing you do is of any consequence for Google but if it touches Google's interests you are dead in the water.

The only entity with big enough resources to fork Android and break Google's grip is probably Samsung and even for a company as rich and powerful as Samsung that would be a high risk strategy.

The Android strategy has never been about being 'open' since it's inception (although Rubin for a while became a champion of Android itself rather than of Google's interests and was sacked as a result). It's a business strategy for Google, an advertising company, that needs to drive ever greater numerical use of it's services, and thus sell more ads, as the world transitions to the mobile web and to a lower price per click for ads. Google needs volume now. Everything Google is doing, especially Google+, is driven by the need to increase the reach of it's user data acquisition and ad serving capacity. Openness was always only a wrapping for Android, a way to increase it's spread and penetration and a way to market it to the Technorati and calm the fears of the OEMs.

There is nothing wrong with any of that, it's a legitimate business strategy, if a bit duplicitous. What's far more shocking is how many people actually bought the 'Android is open' bullshit and even became evangelical champions of it.

If you came across a hedge fund handing out great quality free T-shirts at a convention you wouldn't start to think they were a company dedicated to making great free T-shirts, you would think it was a way to promote their real business of fund management.

Even if you really liked their great free T-shirts.

It's the same with Google.

Reply Parent Score: 4