honeycomb bee

There has been quite an uproar as of late over Google's handling of the source code for Honeycomb, their most recent version of Android. The company announced this week that it would be delaying the release of the Honeycomb source in order to iron out some issues, specifically ones involving running it on small-screen devices (i.e. phones). Andy Rubin gave an explanation as to why these issues exist:

Android 3.0, Honeycomb, was designed from the ground up for devices with larger screen sizes and improves on Android favorites such as widgets, multi-tasking, browsing, notifications and customization...We didn't want to think about what it would take for the same software to run on phones. It would have required a lot of additional resources and extended our schedule beyond what we thought was reasonable. So we took a shortcut.

It's a safe bet that Google wanted to get the Xoom out, with Honeycomb, prior to the iPad2 release. As an unfortunate side effect of this pressure, Honeycomb ended up being not exactly phone-friendly (as anyone who tried the SDK port on their phone no doubt found out).

If you dealt with the Android community before, you probably know that compatibility issues hardly stop those intrepid developers who want to get a full version of Honeycomb running on phones, Nook Colors, basically anything it would boot up on. This is precisely what Google is trying to avoid by withholding the source until it is confirmed as ready for a wider range of devices. Again, Andy clarifies:

While we’re excited to offer these new features to Android tablets, we have more work to do before we can deliver them to other device types including phones... Until then, we’ve decided not to release Honeycomb to open source.

So maybe they aren't allowing homebrew developers to get moving onto the next custom ROM for the Xoom or a full blown Honeycomb version for the Nook Color, but members of the Open Handset Alliance have access to 3.0 in order to make and customize new Android tablets. Other manufacturers are also able to request access to the source from Google, as long as they aren't attempting to load it onto anything besides tablets. The move seems to indicate Google's desire to avoid tarnishing Android by having some second-rate device makers push out "Honeycomb phones" with more bugs than any other Android release to date.

While it may be a letdown for devs and Android hobbyists, for whom the attraction of Android is the ability to customize Google's already fantastic product, it does make sense to ensure that a product is ready for every use case before it is released to the public. The policy may be closer to that of a certain other billion dollar company, but Rubin has assured us that Google "[is] committed to providing Android as an open platform across many device types and will publish the source as soon as it’s ready."

Google holding back Honeycomb is a shock to the Android community, which takes pride in the fact that Android is open source, but there has been somewhat of an overreaction to this move in the tech news coverage. Many claims have been made that this signals that Android is soon to become "locked down," but I think they are blowing this tactical move, motivated by engineering necessities, way out of proportion.

For enthusiasts, including myself, it serves as an unsettling reminder that Google is willing to exert their control where necessary. With that in mind, let's not forget that Google is a company, Android is a brand that it owns, and it would be irresponsible of them to do something that harms the value of that brand in order to uphold a philosophy that a vast majority of their customers doesn't really care about. Just remember - this is a temporary stopgap, forced by rapid market conditions, and not a major change of direction.

Sources: Business Week, All Things D

Zak Stinson
Zak is a neuroscience student residing in the bread basket of Canada. When not reading or writing Android news, he has been known to partake in dangerous backyard science experiments he is nowhere near qualified to perform. He also loves Thai food.

  • Rob

    Excellent interpretation and article. I think I found my new Android blog. Much higher quality than what I am use to.

    • Jex

      Agreed. Well-written post, my friends.

  • ari-free

    "It’s a safe bet that Google wanted to get the Xoom out, with Honeycomb, prior to the iPad2 release. As an unfortunate side effect of this pressure,..."

    Hold it! That's the problem right there. Google has to forget about what Apple is doing and work to build up their brand. Take the time to make it super reliable and polished because right now, the Android brand is perceived to be rough and not quite ready.

    • William

      Not a problem, a reality.

      Building up a brand includes other variables than just quality. Timing (among other things) can be just as important for many different reasons.

      Its all a balancing act, and IMHO they've got it pretty close to right.

    • https://steamcommunity.com/id/m-p-3 m-p{3}

      Seeing that Honeycomb isn't officially available on anything else than tablets at this time, this is almost a non-issue.

      It would be like blaming Apple for not having the current firmware to not properly support the iPad 3.

    • Asphyx

      I think you misunderstood.
      It's not Google that was worried about the iPad2 but more likely Moto.

      Google worked with Moto to get Honeycomb up and running. the rush to market is quite understandable.

  • Eric

    The absolute best article I've seen written on the subject. Thank you for being the first blog I've seen to not be sensational about this.

  • Henrique P. Machado

    Excellent article!

    I agree with Zak words on the last paragraph. Lets not forget, folks: Google is a company and Android is their product.


  • Travis

    Hello they don’t want Honeycomb on phones, they are still gonna deliver Ice Cream.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Exactly. What might happen is a patch to Honeycomb, after which we will see source, or a jump straight to Ice Cream and then source release for both.

  • Sdkippy

    Great article. How long have you believed in the Great Pumpkin?
    Google can't have it both ways. They can't delay open source releases to allow market penetration by some and delay it to others.
    Net affect no foreseeable Android purchases from me.

    • cooperaaaron

      You want Google to release something that might not work on phones just so they can stay true to being open source ? This is what you should tell Google: "Don't release ANY software until it can work on both phones and tablets". Google says "Well, we wanted to try that, but then it would take TOO LONG to get it right for both devices". So what do you expect Google to do ? If that's what you are basing your purchasing on, well, you are welcome to vote with your pocketbook and buy something else. I will wait for Google to do it right so I don't hear "It don't work right on my phone !" comments all over the web.

      • Ken

        It's an Open Source trade-off. If you release the source code to your product, you have to accept the fact that someone might hack it in a way that won't work.

        If Google decides to eventually restore Android's trunk to an open source license on Ice Cream, someone can still download and compile it and then, surprise surprise, have it not work.

        My complaint is simply that Google is adopting Apple's "user experience" BS as a reason for going proprietary.

        All I'm pointing out is that, until further notice, only Gingerbread is Open Source. Honeycomb is a proprietary product, tightly controlled, and exactly like iOS. Let's not pretend otherwise. And I frankly don't believe a single word of the explanation: this is a business decision, not a "user experience" one.

  • http://Www.ahlin.se Christian

    First time this year I comment:
    Great article

  • http://Talk3g.co.uk Hands0n

    Excellent article. A voice of sanity in the midst of all those other chickens running around with their heads off. Google are completely right to do this.

  • Zak Stinson

    Thanks for the kind words everyone! Sometime people just need to take a second look at what is happening around them. First responses are often knee-jerk reactions and those are rarely appropriate.

  • Matt W

    It's disappointing, as it deprives people who do have early Honeycomb tablets of the possibility of a custom ROM, and it tarnishes Android's open-sourceness.

    It's sensible, because despite the enthusiasm of the hacker community around Android there are lots of stupid people who'd do stupid things with it.

    And it reminds me that it's a real shame Android development doesn't happen in an ongoing public repository, but instead arrives as a big dump after some major device launch.

  • Abhishek

    A very commendable article indeed.
    People should understand that Google is a company and when any company releases something to public it has to be caressed and polished before thrown to the world to be dissected upon.
    They are perfectly right is delaying the release because if some bugs are found in porting to other devices the same people who are calling this as a lock-down of Android will start throwing dirt balloons on Google for not giving out a complete product!!
    Thanks for bringing back the sanity with this article Zak. Appreciate it. Thumbs up ! :)

  • Mike Lothian

    Oh come on this isn't to stop folk making custom ROMS this is to stop big companies releasing a Honeycomb tablet with out Gapps like Arcos has been doing.

    They want to give the Xoom a fighting chance before the market is flooded with underpowered cheap devices that might give android tablets a bad wrap

    This is a business decision and is probably to please Motorola and the other companies that pay Google to get the code before release and put Gapps on them

    • Todd

      If this keeps companies like Archos from putting Honeycomb on crap tablets, causing the purchases to believe that Honeycomb and Android are crap, then I say, you go, Google.

  • the Goat

    This is google moving away from their "don't be evil" promise. Does it cross the "evil" line? Probably not. But this choice certainly isn't "good".

    Why not release the Honeycomb source with a beta label (google loves labeling stuff beta) and make everybody happy.

    I have not actually seen a xoom or other honeycomb tablet, but they sound like beta quality products to me.

  • Ken

    Wow way to just reprint Google's BS as if it were the truth. If some devs on xda were to make a buggy rom with code that wasn't intended for it, that would indeed be a first.

    So let's be clear about this. Google's explanation makes no sense. And Android has never really been open source to users in any legitimate way. The firmware on any individual phone is not open source. Package management is not open source. OEMs go out of their way to prevent users from doing the most important right in FOSS: modify the software.

    Not releasing the source code because someone might hack it in ways you don't expect? That's not open source. It's not even open.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      The AOSP project is open source. It gets code pushes in batches, as you know, when Google thinks it's ready for public consumption and not full of bugs. Hence, they are making sure it's not full of bugs and then releasing it. Not that hard of a concept.

      • Ken

        That must be comforting to Xoom users. "It's too buggy to ship the source, but here are some binaries!!"

  • Marc

    What the heck is the point of the Xoom having an unlockable bootloader if you cant make a rom for it?

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      You can, if you register with Google and they give you source. Or you wait until they release it publicly.

  • acupunc

    Picture it this way.

    Customer goes into Staples and see's a $140 Honeycomb tablet. thinks, "well, that's a lot cheaper than this $450 one." And purchases it. Goes home and finds it's a dog and says, "these Android Honeycomb tablets are crap, I'm getting an iPad 2."

    And Honeycomb just became the best marketing Apple could ask for. All because a company that is not in the OHA and not following the rules to make Android "look the best it can."

    Second, Honeycomb was made via shortcuts and not integrated in Android as they would have liked it to be and once they can get that straightened out things will be back on track. So maybe we should think of Honeycomb as a side project outside of Android for the time being and once Honeycomb is sprinkled on Ice Cream it will be part of the Android family--honeycomb isn't the best tasting thing by itself, really needs a little ice cream lol

    Personally, I commend Google for making a tough decision. I'm sure they knew they would get a lot of flack for this decision. However, I think it is the right decision at this point in time for Honeycomb, Honeycomb tablet customers. and Honeycomb OHA hardware manufacturers as well as Google.

    • Ken

      You mean like the notoriously awful $100 Walgreens tablets? That's already the case.

      Google has a trademark on the name "Android." They can prevent someone from using that name on products that aren't approved of. They can also withhold the "Google Experience" tier.

      Google can't have it both ways. Android is Open Source now much in the same way that VirtualBox is -- obsolete releases will eventually be opened up, but current releases are closed source.

      I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Google's decision to move forward with a more closed source operating system. It's their intellectual property. But let's not let them get away with saying they're doing it for some ethereal "user experience" BS. It's because they have agreements with Motorola and other "first tier" OEMs that want an early monopoly.

      It has absolutely nothing, in any remote way, to do with user experience.

      • acupunc

        Those craptastic $100 Walgreens tablets floating around are not Honeycomb. Right now honeycomb is a very obvious UI on only one device. This is not like when Google released the first Android handset. Now there are many players, many users, many hackers, many companies that want to use the new Honeycomb OS for non OHA devices. So, I see it more as "protecting the baby" till it can walk. They didn't need to do that with the phones because no one cared at that time. The market wasn't going to be flooded with a sea of craptastic products like it would now--different ball game all together.

        Also, Honeycomb itself really is not "Android." It was developed on it's own. So I guess if one really wanted to argue that point they could simply say, get over it Honeycomb really is not Android and until it is integrated into Android Google is still standing by their word that "Android" is open source.

        You state:
        "But let’s not let them get away with saying they’re doing it for some ethereal “user experience” BS. It’s because they have agreements with Motorola and other “first tier” OEMs that want an early monopoly."

        Do you have proof of this? If you don't your just trying to stir something up with hyperbole.

        You state:
        "It has absolutely nothing, in any remote way, to do with user experience."

        I completely disagree. I think it does. By keeping Honeycomb "clean" they will be able to easily update all honeycomb tablets to Ice Cream easily = user experience. Also, it will help give developers a "clean tablet os" to work with to get apps out asap = user experience. Limiting craptastic tablets on the market = user experience.

        Finally, for all those who want to attack Google over spending millions if not billions of dollars to develop an open OS and can't handle a tough and unpopular decision from time to time there are alternatives, and you can always fund your own project to have it "your ethical way." In other words, it's easy to sling mud from the sidelines.

        I get constructive criticism for a platform and I'm all for that. This however, is a "tantrum" over nothing. Hackers can still hack away--just look at what they've already done with the Xoom and Honeycomb. The only ones really being "held back" in any real way are companies that want to use Honeycomb and refuse to join the OHA. And imo that's a good thing at this point in time.

        OK. . . I've spent enough energy on this worthless top lol ;)

        • Ken

          I'm not saying Google doesn't have the right to license its software however it pleases.

          All I'm saying is that, (1) there are plenty of Android craptastic tablets out there, and not releasing the Honeycomb source code does nothing to change that, (2) by definition, it is no longer Open Source.

          You're free to believe Google is doing this for some ethereal "user experience" reason. I find it far more likely that its OEMs, especially Motorola, pressured Google into offering them a "head start" by delaying the release of the source code.

          It's business. I'm not the one with talk of lofty ideals. That would be Andy Rubin with his famous tweet about the definition of openness: repo clone. By Rubin's own definition, Android's latest version is now closed.

          That's all. Android Honeycomb is simply a proprietary operating system, just like iOS or WebOS or Blackberry. There's nothing wrong with proprietary software. Just don't tell me it's open source, without the source code, and that's for my own good. That's insulting to my intelligence.

      • acupunc

        You wrote:
        "(1) there are plenty of Android craptastic tablets out there, and not releasing the Honeycomb source code does nothing to change that, (2) by definition, it is no longer Open Source."

        #2. . . yes, I would agree. Honeycomb (not Android) is at this point in time not open source, clearly. But in no way is it as closed as iOS--let's be real about that. Android "phone" OS is still open source.

        #1 You clearly did not get my initial point in my last comment. Those craptastic tablets DO NOT run Honeycomb. That's the whole point--to keep honeycomb off craptastic products at this point in time imo. It's too late to keep Android off craptastic tablets/phones but they can at least do something about Honeycomb at this point in time till they get the OS straightened out and/or proves itself in the market. I don't see why you can't see that this is two different things--Android phone OS on tablets Vs Honeycomb (tablet OS) on tablets or even Honeycomb (tablet OS) on phones. Seems you are trying to make the two the same and they just aren't.

        Why they are doing it? We can speculate why but I'm going to take them at their word until I have clear evidence to the contrary. I don't see them restricting Honeycomb from anyone who is part of the OHA--if they did that then your statement about giving Moto & others a head start would be valid but at this point it just isn't the case from what I can see.

        Finally, to think that companies won't have to make such decision is very naive, and by making such decision doesn't mean they've given up their ideals and convictions.

        Maybe if you were in the "inner circle" of Honeycomb you would make the same decision. That's the crux here. We don't know everything going on and we ought to have a little faith that they aren't bailing on their ideals and convictions--give them a little time to right the ship that went off track due to competitive reasons. They have a lot of people to answer to with Honeycomb outside of the open-source community and a lot of companies putting boat loads of cash behind it as well. They need to be prudent and make the wisest decisions for ALL involved and that's always going to upset some faction(s).

        When they merge Android & Honeycomb in Ice Cream and don't open source it then yes, we should ream them good. Right now we ought to just breath and realize they have a few hurdles to overcome to get to where they need to be to make the OS right.

        • Ken

          I'm not sure why it would matter whether those Android craplets tablets run Honeycomb, Gingerbread, Froyo, or for that matter, Donut. Google's brand isn't Honeycomb, it's Android. Honeycomb is simply a revision tag, or maybe a branch, of the Android trunk. (We don't know yet.)

          Whether that fork/branch is specifically designed for tablets isn't really relevant.

          If Google's standard is that they're only releasing source code that you can't make anything buggy with, then they should never have released any source code to anything, ever.

          If Google's standard is that they're only releasing source code that's suitable for both tablets and phones, then they shouldn't have released Android 1.x or 2.x, which were specifically designed to only run on phones.

          If Google's standard is that they're releasing source code based on the business imperative of giving OHA members a head start, then their actions make perfect sense and it's understandable that they would wait a while.

          When they either merge Honeycomb into the trunk (if it's a fork as you suggest) or further modify the trunk to work with smaller displays, nothing will have changed except the list of target devices. People will still be compiling things that don't work, and third parties will still be able to make crappy devices that don't work right.

      • acupunc

        you obviously don't want to understand any other point than the one you want to make.

        enjoy. . .

  • ObjectiveOne

    Could not have said it better

  • Mike Lothian

    All Google's development work is closed source. It's only a week or two after the release of a new version do they release the sourcecode. All that's happened this time is they've delayed this release

    They choose to do this to give themselves and their partners a completive edge - which is different to the way they develop Chrome

    Google are under no obligation to release the majority of the code for Android, only the parts which are GPL or LGPL need to be and then only the bits which they haven't written them selves (like the kernel)

    I think some of you need to go look up the definitions of open source, open development and open governance.

    Android only delivers the first of these, Chrome delivers the first and second and Qt (formally owned my Nokia) have the first two and are on their way to having all three

  • Ken
    • unbiased

      Yeah, Paul Ryan is someone I should listen to about. . . well, anything. And ARS writes some of the most pro-apple reviews around--not really a place that you are going to get good unbiased info.

      Maybe that's your point? Telling us you are really just an iFan ;(

      • Ken

        Ryan Paul (not to be confused with congressman Paul Ryan) is a Linux developer whose gwibber client ships with Ubuntu. I'm not sure why you'd take issue with him. For comparison, see his review of Froyo on the Nexus One:


        Anyway, it's less about the source and more about the content. He's just laying out the facts: locked down bootloaders, locked down recovery images, the inability to sideload APKs on AT&T, Cricket, and Metro PCS phones, and now this.

        His observation is about a trend more than anything. Google is not the open playground we all hoped for.

        I run Cyanogenmod, so I'm less at the mercy of Google and T-Mobile than some people, but it still stings.

        • unbiased

          Sorry, but that is utter BS. You can't blame Google for what OEMs & carriers do.

          Google tried to make an OS that would work on devices independent of carriers to be as open as possible. Do you know what happened? The carriers told them flat out that they would not carry the device! In other words it would be DOA!

          What should they have done? Put out some POS open source OS that gets 0.1% market share? Or suck it up and do what is necessary to put out a competitive platform while keeping it as open as they can so multiple vendors can participate?

          I for one am glade they sucked it up and are playing with the big boys and giving us all a choice.

          Sometimes you have to make compromises.

          If you don't like the choice then piss off to another platform or create a successful platform of your own.

          Where's Paul's great totally open sourced market leading mobile OS? Where's yours?

          PUT UP OR STFU!

          No one is forcing anyone to use Android or any platform for that matter. I'm sick of whinny bitches complaining all the time about how a company is spending fuck tons of money to provide a good "relatively open" alternatives to what's available in the market currently.

          If you don't like it. . .

          Put up or STFU!

          I'll be waiting to see your glorious OS.

        • Ken

          I'm not "blaming" Google for anything, nor am I suggesting that only people who have developed touch screen OS's should be able to objectively evaluate whether something's open.

          I'm merely pointing out that there are shades of gray between fully open and fullly proprietary. Google was and is marketed as extremely open, uncontrolled by any single player, with all the benefits of Open Source.

          That ain't so.

          If carriers pressured Google, that was their business decision. Again, I'm not the one spewing lofty ideals about the definitions of open. That would by Andy Rubin in his famous tweet.

        • unbiased


          You are full of BS! You are the one trying to put words in Google's mouth and saying what they are or aren't. They've never claimed that they don't "control" Android. When it is released as open source then they relinquish control and no one does have control at that point. This is NORMAL for any MAJOR open source project!

          Your trying your damndest on this post to badmouth Google.

          Google is doing a hell of a lot more than any other major tech company for open-source and you know it.

          ~$300 million spent to give VP8 to the world.

          How much for Android????

          And how many other open source projects to they support?

          You want to talk smack about Google's "openness." That's BS! Google doesn't need to be open at all. Their open-source projects are released as open-source when READY. Honeycomb ain't ready--get that through your thick head!

          That's all there is to it and that's what they've stated & done in the past and are still doing. Your just trying to make something out of nothing as is Paul Ryan. Honeycomb IS NOT READY FOR OPEN SOURCE RELEASE. That's all there is to it. When ready it WILL be released.

          I see Google sticking to "their lofty ideals" more than any other major tech company currently.

          Again. . . PUT UP OR STFU!

          Noticed you didn't direct me to your open-sourced platform!?!?!?

          Just stop talking BS and leave it alone. The source code will be released when it is ready.

        • Ken

          Thanks for keeping it civil, Unbiased.

  • Ken

    As for what I'd have Google do.

    For one, they could release the source code to the Nexus One and Nexus S firmwares. As it stands, each of those devices comes with a modified, binary-only version of the AOSP. What those modifications are continue to be mysterious. If at least the modifications to AOSP were available, the Nexus S and Nexus One would be phones running, from stock, an open source operating system.

    For Honeycomb, they could simply refuse to license the trademarks of "Android" and "Honeycomb" to tablet and phone OEMs who are delivering poor user experiences. Third rate tablets could still come from China, but they couldn't claim to run Honeycomb or Android.

    • unbiased

      Well then start your own OS and Do IT. You can even fork Android and do it.

      But STFU about how Google is choosing to get the job done because NO ONE cares what you think they should do!

  • question

    I'm just an enthusiast who likes the custom roms as much as the next guy. (and looking forward to Honeycomb on my Woot Viewsonic G-pad)

    Read the ars article. Seems like a major drama queen freak-out to me, which seems to permeate the open source defenders when they don't get what they want when they think they are entitled to it.

    I don't know this, so can someone answer these questions:

    Is a version of Android open source until Google says it is? Does Google claim that Honeycomb on Mar 26, 2011 is open source?

  • Todd

    Man, look at all the Apple shills come out and pretend to be Android users. How much are they paying you, Ken, to post your crap?