03
May
open handset alliance

Some interesting leaked news are hitting the airwaves today: according to a former high-level Open Handset Alliance executive from Google, the said Alliance was "nothing more than a myth".

The one-time company head called the group “oligarchical” and revolving solely around Android:

"The power is concentrated with the Google employees who manage the open source project"

The Open Handset Alliance

The Open Handset Alliance, founded and led by by Google in 2007, contained 34 large and small companies related to the mobile business, and this number only grew over the years, currently standing at 65.

The primary purpose of this *open* alliance was to share and mold ideas in the open, creating and maintaining standards together:

Innovating in the open
Each member of the Open Handset Alliance is strongly committed to greater openness in the mobile ecosystem.

Increased openness will enable everyone in our industry to innovate more rapidly and respond better to consumers' demands.

Our first joint project as a new Alliance is Android™. Android was built from the ground up with the explicit goal to be the first open, complete, and free platform created specifically for mobile devices.

Android Openness Today

Now fast forward to today and what do we have?

Google throughout all this time has been in charge of maintaining most of the code and deciding what is going to be part of the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) and what isn't. Google is clearly the main project owner but some argue that it is not giving enough say and ability to contribute to other potential contributors, prompting posts like this one (Is Android Evil?) which by now sparked quite a controversy around the web. The "openness" is at risk here.

What's worse, multiple branches, or flavors, of Android have emerged, created by phone manufacturers. You've heard of them - I'm talking about HTC's Sense, Sony's Rachael, Motorola's MOTOBLUR, etc.

Considering each company putting in the effort to make Android what it thinks it should be (mind you, most are members of the OHA) has absolutely 0 incentive to contribute the work back to the public branch, the "openness" at this point is out the window.

A bit of a conflict of interest, isn't it? The main benefit and the whole point of Android when it was created, was to create a single platform that would unify developers and manufacturers alike, and now everyone is going their separate ways all over again, causing compatibility issues and multiple delays in Android version upgrades (hey, it's our favorite subject nowadays!).

As Electronista points out,

"Many OHA members have taken a much higher level of interest in Android in the past several months but have rarely kept to the stock Android OS or shared their knowledge"

So it really didn't come as a huge surprise to hear that the OHA is not as open at all, with Google in control and its members not feeling that it is necessary to contribute back. One has to wonder what else happens behind closed doors. It looks like the membership in the Open Handset Alliance ended up being nothing more than a VIP badge for manufacturers, such as HTC and Motorola, as well as carriers, such as T-Mobile, but without the privileges they thought would come with such a badge.

Whether Google's control caused the split and the sour feelings or on the other hand multiple Android flavors made everyone greedy (the chicken or the egg?), such a feud is not good for Android.

Google Like Apple?

Electronista continues on to make the claim that Google is starting to resemble Apple when it comes to core features of the Android OS and what happens to them:

"The attitude mentioned by the executive hints at Google adopting a more Apple-like control over its mobile OS. Android is still partly open source and is less strictly controlled, but the revelations now imply that Google often has near-exclusive input into the core features"

Currently, Google has not made any comments about these claims.

Are we being too harsh with Google? Probably but that's because we don't want another Apple to happen to us. What do you, our readers, think?

Source: Electronista

Andrew Huff
Ever since he was old enough to walk, Andrew has been a computer geek and gaming fanatic. This took a turn for the worse after getting the G1 the moment it was released, becoming an Android addict, and eventually snagging a Nexus One.
When not reporting about Android gaming at www.DroidGamers.com and writing for Androidpolice, he spends his time with his wife and a newborn boy.
  • Yves

    I dot agree about Motoblur, Sense, Touchwiz.

    IMHO:

    They are not branches of Android. They are replacements of parts of Android.

    And the fact that they are closed-source is the decision of their makers, not of google.

    I however encourage a modifiable android, since it makes sure competiton can exist.

    As long as these makes are compatible, and have the market, I am fine with.

    The same way as HTC did a new email-client, google did earth or the gmail-app.

    They are android-software, but not the android-platform.

  • Aleks

    I wouldn't say HTC, Motorola and others are using different versions of Android, these are simply different UIs with the same stock Android kernel. It helps brands differentiate their product. Just because it's the same OS at heart, doesn't mean it has to be identical across all devices. It gives consumers more options and if anything I think it's a good thing that we are given the possibility to choose Sense, Motoblur and the like.

    As for Google's control of OHA, I'm not the least bit surprised. Every mention of Android calls it Google's child. I'm not sure why this is so... perhaps the other partners do not have as much interest riding on the project as Google does, but comparing Google to Apple at this point is extreme to say the least!

    • http://georgesdick.com Georges

      I totally agree : for me Motoblur, Sense (etc.) are to be seen more as different desktops (Like KDE and Gnome) then as different systems (Gnome apps can run with KDE, and vice-et-versa)

  • Charles34

    As far as the different UIs on Android you can either have them and call it open or you can block them and call it iPhone. I personally use ADWLauncher because it's a COMPLETELY customizable home screen launcher. As for what the members of the Alliance are getting with their "badges," I'd say Motorola's rise from the grave is one clear example that they're all getting VERY rich. This is, after all, exactly what they're trying to do. Remember, OHA members get rights to Google services (Android Market being the most important service,) without which Android phone sales would be a far cry from where they are right now.

    Considering how many of these companies signed up for the sake of riding that beautiful Google name and market share to the bank, I don't think they have too much to complain about

  • Gabriel

    The discussion if Motorola can or cannot customize it's android may be very personal.
    But there is another one that shows zero respect for the consumers and reassures that "OHA" is just a badge.
    Moto released the Defy+ running Android 2.3, and it bears nearly the same hardware as the Defy, yet, the Defy is nowhere close to see Android 2.3...
    That's a great disrespect for the consumer and a lot of greed on their part.
    The bare minimal action to be taken here would cast them out of OHA.

  • http://www.facebook.com/darktremor Robert Travis Kirton

    Outside the Linux operating system that runs as part of Android, the core components are protected under the Apache 2 License, which states that they can freely distribute the program, but those modifying the program do not have to share the source of their modifications. Has Android been licensed under the GPL (as it's Linux OS is), then the source to any modifications would have to be available to the public. This shouldn't surprise anyone that Android isn't as open as Google touts it to be.