Android In Recent News

Fragmentation has been one of the biggest criticisms of the Android platform. Essentially, Google allows anybody to take the Android code and tweak it suit their own needs. This is how manufacturers like Motorola, HTC, and Samsung are able to create custom layers (MotoBlur, Sense UI, and TouchWiz, respectively) over the vanilla Android interface and how some carriers load up new phones with crapware. Although this is a price to pay for openness and customizability, a recent study indicates that 86% of developers are unhappy with the state of Android fragmentation (24% of them describing it as a "huge problem").

About a week ago it was rumoured that Google would start cracking down on manufacturers building their own custom UIs to ensure that the disease of fragmentation did not spread further, and tighter controls could be maintained over when devices would be receiving updates. Manufacturers seeking to obtain the most up-to-date software would need to submit their plans for approval. Understandably, manufacturers were in an uproar as handing over plans for new devices would be tantamount to giving the edge to Google and their favoured partners.

Google already bared its teeth by delaying the release Honeycomb to ensure it was not being used for devices with incompatible form-factors (i.e. devices that were not tablets). XOOM was the first device to launch with Honeycomb.

Andy Rubin Responds

To clarify Google's position on the issue, Andy Rubin, VP of Engineering for Android, writes "in the spirit of transparency" that the recent negative press created by Businessweek's rumour is all just FUD. He maintains that Android's aim is to remain open and allow as many different and unique devices to be built upon its platform without locking down or restricting custom UIs.

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.

And further, that it is not in the approach of Android's development to lock-down or restrict custom UIs.

Furthermore, even though Google, in partnership with HTC and Samsung, has released self-branded devices, namely the Nexus One and the Nexus S, it is not in its interest to standardize the platform.

There are not, and never have been, any efforts to standardize the platform on any single chipset architecture.

Along the way he takes pot shots at Apple's iOS platform ("We don't believe in a 'one size fits all' solution") and talks about the emergence of the tablet market created by the iPad and then the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Android-powered microwaves, in-dash car stereos, etc. ("The Android platform has already spurred the development of hundreds of different types of devices – many of which were not originally contemplated when the platform was first created").

However, Rubin's most important point is that their "anti-fragmentation" policy has been in effect since the early days of Android and that nothing has changed.

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 agreed not to fragment Android when we first announced it in 2007.

Clearly, this policy was never vigorously pursued, resulting in the hodgepodge of Android devices flooding the market today. Rubin does not claim anywhere in the post that Google will be cracking down on manufacturers who do not abide by its guidelines, however it is implied that if you want to be its most favoured customer, you have to follow its rules.

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).

Lastly, Rubin makes it clear that Google will indeed release the Honeycomb source to all developers, rather than just preferred manufacturers, when it's ready for phones. He does not specify whether it will still be called Honeycomb at that point or will be rolled into the next version of the OS:

Finally, we 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. 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.

It is clear that the Android team is not willing to rest on its laurels and let the situation deteriorate any further. Instead they are being proactive about tackling the issue while at the same time maintaining their open ethos. In the final paragraph of his post, Rubin continues to pontificate on what he believes is best for consumers:

The volume and variety of Android devices in the market continues to exceed even our most optimistic expectations. We will continue to work toward an open and healthy ecosystem because we truly believe this is best for the industry and best for consumers.

The post does not really tell us anything new about Android development, but it does highlight Google's penchant to maintain a clear distinction between itself and Apple's iOS juggernaut, by billing itself as the "open" alternative.

Source: Android Developers Blog

Abhiroop Basu
Abhiroop Basu is an opinionated tech and digital media blogger. As a doe-eyed twenty-something he started his first blog TechComet to comment on anything tech-related that caught his omniscient eye. Since then he has blogged for Android Police, Make Tech Easier, and This Green Machine. In the real world, Abhiroop Basu is a resident of Singapore and the Editor of The Digit, a subsidiary of The Potato Productions Group.

  • Tony

    Good on you Google, keep Android open!!

    Plus, sounds like Honeycomb is coming to phones soon too.

    • Michael

      WTF? Honeycomb coming to phones soon? Ha ha. Don't hold your breath. My son has a Samsung Fascinate which STILL hasn't been updated to Froyo!! And I no longer even care when or if I'll get Gingerbread for my Droid X. Corporate greed, fragmentation, bloatware, new anti-customer carrier policies...never seen so many entities let their greed ruin a good thing. I'm sick of all of it.

      • Tony

        These are Samsung / Motorola problems, not Google. Samsung screwed up with the Galaxy S Series (call is what you will), and I wouldn't touch them with a barge pole. For the same reason I'm trying to avoid getting a Xoom.

        I use AOSP ROMs on my desire, so if Google do make Honeycomb run on phone, i will get it on my phone, thanks to very clever guys over at XDA Developers.

        I fully agree about bloatware, carriers are morons and cause unnecessary delays.

      • civil

        Blame it on US carriers. As it stands most galaxy s phones outside the US have froyo and will likely get gingerbread sometime in April. Its the crapware/requirements US carriers put in that delay phone updates in the US.

  • Jason

    Less corporate babble, more releasing the Honeycomb source so I can put it on my Adam.

    The entire chain of reasoning sounds like BS to me. Just release the code, XDA knows better than the in house Google developers anyway, and they always will.

    • max

      I would rather have a complete source code completed rather than the half ass one they would end up releasing.

      • Jason

        I'd rather have the half ass code and let XDA fix it. It will be faster than waiting for Google.

        • Tony

          But then it's fixed with hacks, don't get me wrong XDA Devs are great. But clean is best, AdamG's Oxygen (no hacks) runs so much better that CM7 (full of hacks) for the Desire.

          I agree with Max that fully complete source code will be far better.

  • Marc

    I really don't think that its the Senses or Motoblurs of the world that are creating any kind of problems for most devs. Remember when Rubin tweated that the definition of open was the ability to compile from source? Not so anymore, I guess

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/abhiroop-basu Abhiroop Basu

      But is it not because of the MotoBlurs that we don't get quicker updates to our devices? My HTC Magic would be stuck on 1.5 if not for CyanogenMOD

  • David

    Please, lock down the UI! Vanilla android is great, and the latest updates are immediate. All the crapware and UI overlays are killing the platform!

  • rTiGd2

    That would be a paradox, Jason, given how you'll most likely find said developers releasing their personal stuff to XDA ;-)

  • http://trueacu.com acupunc

    I'm curious how long customers will tolerate different UIs on all these devices--maybe the will like them or maybe they will come to expect consistency like they have on the PC. If the later is the case and MS actually puts out a decent OS that fills that gap then Android might have some difficulty in the future. . . will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

    • njplayer1

      don't forget that there still are the nexus phones.

  • Albert

    A good point... I always assumed it was google's responsibility to police this--but as he said, its open source and they care about the ability to run on a device. That being said, why don't we have the ability to use vanilla android?

    What I say to handset manufacturers, I'm paying you for your device, I pay the carrier for the service, why do you care what I do with it after that transaction? I should be able to rom, flash, vanilla my device however I like.

    The only reason why I personally have tried to ROM my device was to make it faster and more usable. I don't like the moto blur crap, nor did I like VZ's bloatware.

    I think that Google could encourage handset makers to produce better overlaying software...

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/abhiroop-basu Abhiroop Basu

      Why can't it be like Linux? Where you run your own flavour (e.g. Ubuntu) but the kernel is always up-to-date and you don't have to wait for Canonical to sort itself out.

  • http://kenkinder.com/ Ken


    There's the definition. Does the most recent version of Android meet that definition? (NO)

  • Álmos

    "consistency like they have on the PC"

    You are joking, right? The PC is the most inconsistent platform of them all.

  • max

    He should do this once a month to help clean up the roomers android has

  • L boogie

    Releasing honeycomb is its complete form would benefit all of the android universe whenever its done till then, Google should work on completing the source code but as for being open source, continue to do so because that IS the reason Android has become successful among factors however, mantaining control to do away with fragmentation is of utmost importance and google needs to do that which would hopefully eliminate bloatware finally

  • Scott

    Personally, I just like my device to work, custom rom or stock. Yes, I agree carriers should not crapify our devices but until we have a stable company that allows us to build our phones from scratch the way we like it, it is what we must deal with being a customer.

    When you think about it, the typical consumers (70%-85 of wireless buyers) have no idea or cares about an update. When they hear “there is an update for your device” they simply say “Oh, there is an update? Ok I’ll just hit the button that says install” and that’s it! They probably have no clue that the updates have desert names in the first place. Those of us that follow these forums, android fan sites, and stay up-to-date with the news of releases, source code, roms, etc. are theoretically probably in the top 10-15% of electronic consumers that are knowledgeable and savvy enough to understand these devices and their potential for what can be done.

    Think about it for a second, I’m a Big wireless company making millions off of people to use my services. Now I have this wonderful godsend of an OS that people love and it provides many advantages or more than an ISheeple OS. All of a sudden a 15% of my consumers complain and make demands ( which are reasonable, legit, and logical in every way) They threaten to leave me, but probably a small portion of that 15% will go ( lets say 7% do) the rest is just a bluff to put pressure on me. So I lose 7% big deal? I still have 85+8= 93% of my customers which is still profit. If I’m really a stickler for money then I will make more of my devices and create family plans, kid, low-end oriented phones, with that OS, in hopes that they will just buy a phone and make up for the 7% lost. Again I’m not calming to be an expert and I also did not account for those consumers who are downright afraid of rooting their phone as they are worried “I paid almost an arm and a leg for this device and now there is a chance I might break it? No, thanks!” so they sit on the side lines waiting for an official release if there ever will be one.

    We that keep current are in fact a minority in respect to the average consumer who wants the new toy on the block. We are the few that know the potential of our devices and what we could push out of their tiny circuitry. In many ways we are the l33t of our peers and thus it is up to us to educate others. The more people onboard and with the knowledge as their tools the more we as a whole can put pressure on the big companies. After all, a loss of 25% of consumers is greater than 7%. Sadly we (15%) are the only voice when we bite back at these companies. Sometimes we are heard and many other times are simply ignored. I still support the good fight and encourage all to rage against the empire that wishes to have a death grip on us and what WE paid for. It is unfortunate what we must endure, but alas it is what it is. As aforementioned, until we can pay a company to build a phone from scratch that has all the specifications we personally wish and would work on any carrier, we must deal with the powers that be which are our providers and papa Google trying to make everyone happy.