It all started with Apple/TechCrunch blogger M.G. Siegler making a huge fuss over something he didn’t understand, and while that in and of itself isn’t particularly interesting, one of the outcomes of this little internet drama is a comment on Google+ (the tenth one) that so perfectly encapsulates just how important Android is for the world that I felt the need to share it with you. It’s the holiday season after all.
As some of you may recall, way back in the day, Steve Jobs said Google’s use of the word “open” was disingenuous, and that Google’s use of the term in relation to Android was just smokes and mirrors. While the dripping, almost gelatinous irony of Steve Jobs accusing another company of abusing a term for marketing purposes certainly wasn’t lost on me, I personally wasn’t particularly happy with the lack of a public source code release for Honeycomb either; in the end, however, it didn’t change anything about the openness of Android – technically speaking, that is. No licenses were violated, and all the source code that had to be released was properly released (all GPL code, for instance, was readily available).
Still, Andy Rubin, Google’s Android chief, felt the need to address Steve Jobs’ comments, and opened a Twitter account. His first tweet gave the definition of open – a definition as rock-solid now as it was back then. As most of us will realise, this is the sequence of commands that downloads and compiles the Android source code.
the definition of open: “mkdir android ; cd android ; repo init -u git://android.git.kernel.org/platform/manifest.git ; repo sync ; make”
A few days ago, Rubin posted a tweet about how on December 24 and 25, 3.7 million Android devices were activated. A pretty impressive number, especially since unlike, say, Apple’s numbers, this covers devices actually bought and activated by customers, but excludes devices which aren’t Android certified, like the Kindle Fire or many Chinese products running Android derivatives (Apple’s numbers, on the other hand, only cover shipped devices – not sold devices, like many erroneously believe. Apple uses “sold” rather… Disingenuously by redefining “shipped” to “sold” in its SEC filings).
In any case, Siegler noticed that Rubin’s first tweet had been deleted – conspiracy! Proof Android isn’t open! Man the trebuchets! “Where did the initial tweet go? Who knows. But it sure looks like he deleted it. Deleted it in an ‘open’ way, I’m sure,” Siegler writes, “Luckily for us all, I saved Rubin’s real first tweet from October 19, 2010.” Can you imagine if he hadn’t saved it for us all? What a relief!
There’s no conspiracy here, of course. The simple fact of the matter is that the instructions for downloading and building Android which were given in Rubin’s first tweet were outdated. After the kernel.org root server was compromised, many code repositories, including Android’s, were moved away from kernel.org. In other words, Rubin’s commands simply don’t work any more, and as such, the tweet was deleted. Again, the irony of Siegler making a fuss about this isn’t lost on me.
In case you were wondering, the new definition of open:
$ repo init -u https://android.googlesource.com/platform/manifest -b android-4.0.3_r1
All this is remarkably uninteresting, but there’s one upside to all this. In a comment posted on Google+ (the tenth one; how do you link to Google+ comments?), Clinton DeWitt explains the importance of open source in mobile, and the effect Android will have (and already is having) on the mobile industry in places other than the rich west. For the first time, a smartphone operating system is going to impact more than rich people in the US and Europe, and that is pretty darn revolutionary.
“I believe what Android is accomplishing is truly revolutionary. Mobile is the way that billions of people will one day access the Internet. And through that access, we will soon start to narrow the massive knowledge gap that currently divides the richest from the poorest populations,” DeWitt explains, “That there’s now an eminently capable open source mobile operating system, one that is free to use and free to fork, means that the knowledge advantage can be better and more evenly distributed across the planet than ever before.”
“For some pundits, it’s all about which companies are building the fanciest and most feature-rich handheld computers. Which, if we’re being honest about it, are devices for those that already have everything. When you’re at the top, it’s great to see the tech giants going head-to-head and competing for our dollars like this. Having a few dollars, I benefit from that, too,” he adds, “And yet in spite of that, I’m even more excited about seeing a $25 mobile device that has access to a killer web browser and endless mobile apps, and watching that device appear in the hands of a billion school children over the next 10 years.”
The iPhone is heralded as the most revolutionary mobile phone in human history, but the cold and harsh truth is that for all the cheering and punditry, the iPhone’s impact on the world is negligible. Sure, it had a huge impact on the smartphone market in rich countries – but it didn’t have such an impact on the world.
For all the bad jokes directed at the company during its trying times, Nokia is the technology company that truly changed the world. Nokia put a mobile phone within every person’s reach. Even people in some of the poorest places on earth were given the ability to communicate wirelessly, thanks to Nokia making the mobile phone affordable to everyone. Personally, I see this as one of the greatest achievements of the technology world, but sadly, it’s often overlooked because “ooh Apple has pinch-to-zoom!!!1!”
What Nokia did for the mobile phone, Android is doing for the smartphone. It’s not Apple that’s going to put a smartphone in every corner of the globe – it’s not Microsoft; heck, not even Google, but Android. In ten to fifteen years’ time, we will look back and regard Android as the technology that enabled even the poorest people in this world to have access to the web (and thus, knowledge), just like we regard Nokia as the company that put the mobile phone in every corner of the globe.
Of all the features, of all the first world problem whining, of all the lawsuits, of all the lacking updates, of all the antennagates, of all the pentile matrix nonsense, of all the large displays, of all the design patents, of all the everything – that is what makes Android revolutionary.
And that’s worth ten billion bullshit bounce-back scrolling software patents.