Last night, we reported on some pretty strange rumors concerning an Acer product launch set to take place Thursday in Shanghai. The rumor was that Google had put its foot down over Acer's announcement of an Aliyun-powered smartphone, and threatened to "terminate all android-related cooperation" with the Taiwanese manufacturer should it proceed with the CloudMobile A800's introduction.

In case you missed the story, Aliyun is an OS developed by Alibaba Group, China's largest Internet firm by transactions. The OS, while not explicitly marked as an Android fork, is pretty closely related to the original platform. The OS boasts a reliance on cloud storage, and can even run Android apps using a "virtual machine."

Today, looking to clear the air, Google released a statement on the issue, indicating that yes, the search giant had put its foot down. The reason? Acer is a member of the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium of manufacturers and other firms with the shared goal of "developing open standards for mobile devices." Citing this alliance, Google plainly stated that "non-compatible version of Android, like Aliyun, weaken the ecosystem." Here's the full statement:

Compatibility is at the heart of the Android ecosystem and ensures a consistent experience for developers, manufacturers and consumers. Non-compatible versions of Android, like Aliyun, weaken the ecosystem. All members of the Open Handset Alliance have committed to building one Android platform and to not ship non-compatible Android devices. This does not however, keep OHA members from participating in competing ecosystems.

So what does this mean? Basically, Alibaba's estimation of the situation was right on the money – Google is essentially saying that if you're a member of the Open Handset Alliance and you want to keep getting early access to the platform along with access to Google Apps, you'd better not release a device with a "non-compatible" (forked or unapproved) version of Android. In a post to the official Android blog, Andy Rubin backs up this explanation:

While Android remains free for anyone to use as they would like, only Android compatible devices benefit from the full Android ecosystem. By joining the Open Handset Alliance, each member contributes to and builds one Android platform -- not a bunch of incompatible versions.

The post also explains in detail just what it means to be "incompatible":

When we first contemplated Android and formed the Open Handset Alliance, we wanted to create an open virtuous cycle where all members of the ecosystem would benefit. We thought hard about what types of external factors could intervene to weaken the ecosystem as a whole. One important external factor we knew could do this was INCOMPATIBILITIES between implementations of Android. Let me explain:
Imagine a hypothetical situation where the platform on each phone sold was just a little bit different. Different enough where Google Maps would run normally on one phone but run terribly slow on another. Let's say, for sake of example, that Android implemented an API that put the phone to sleep for a fraction of a second to conserve battery life when nothing was moving on the screen. The API prototype for such a function might look like SystemClock.sleep(millis) where the parameter "millis" is the number of milliseconds to put the device to sleep for.
If one phone manufacturer implemented SystemClock.sleep() incorrectly, and interpreted the parameter as Seconds instead of Milliseconds, the phone would be put to sleep a thousand times longer than intended! This manufacturer’s phone would have a terrible time running Google Maps. If apps don’t run well across devices due to incompatibilities, consumers would leave the ecosystem, followed by developers. The end of the virtuous cycle.

Of course, members like Lenovo and Motorola have shipped products running OPhone OS in China with little or no reaction. There's no doubt that Google's reaction in this instance is unique, and it may indicate that the Mountain View giant is taking a harder stance regarding OHA do's and don'ts.

Missing the point, Alibaba's VP John Spelich rebutted "Aliyun OS is not part of the Android ecosystem so of course Aliyun OS is not and does not have to be compatible with Android," adding "It is ironic that a company that talks freely about openness is espousing a closed ecosystem."

Given that Google has more or less confirmed some of the speculation surrounding last night's story, it will be interesting to see how Acer reacts, particularly because the manufacturer has already stated that it plans to continue working with Aliyun, releasing phones running the OS this year and next.

Via Wall Street Journal, The Verge

Liam Spradlin
Liam loves Android, design, user experience, and travel. He doesn't love ill-proportioned letter forms, advertisements made entirely of stock photography, and writing biographical snippets.

  • http://www.theandroidsite.com benmarvin

    I'm all for forks of Android. Albeit not the half baked stuff like skins. But if different versions work better in different ecosystems, by all means go for it. Amazon and the Kindle Fire being the biggest example of success, Nook a close second in that ecosystem. Google doesn't have that firm a foothold in the East as they would like, and alternative versions of Android might work better there, especially with entry level handsets. I really don't see why Google is trying to make a stand here and not elsewhere. As long as Acer and associates obey GPL, Apache and all other applicable licenses, they should be ok. But G's point about Gapps still sticks.

    • ddpacino

      Acer is part of the open handset Alliance. Who is that is forking Android is? Amazon isn't one of them...

      • http://www.theandroidsite.com benmarvin

        Strictly speaking, members such as HTC, Samsung, Sony and others (all of them) are also "forking" Android. Taking the initial source code, modifying it, and publishing it as a new version. Not to the extent of Amazon's OS or Aliyun (although I have yet to see it). How far down the tine of the fork must one go before Google shits a brick? Now we know.

        • ddpacino

          I see your point. Skinned Android is still compatible with core Android, Google concern here. When I read the mention of having to run a vm to use Android apps, I knew right there that that wouldn't fly. I do want to say that I'm GLAD to see Google put its foot down regarding Android... Finally. Lol

        • http://twitter.com/LV2355 Laurentiu

          Compatibility is the answer here! An app will work the same on HTC, Samsung, Sony because they are compatible. Amazon's OS is also compatible. Aliyun on the other hand is NOT!

          "Aliyun doesn't use Android's Dalvik virtual machine, and the Aliyun system libraries and programs are not binary-compatible with Dalvik API's. An App Store was launched with the Aliyun that contains downloadable Android APK files."


    • Jack Mabry Jr

      Google has an "Open Handset Alliance" for members that build off of their code. Members in that agreement agree to not fork the code into a different operating system.

      Acer agreed to that. If they want to build a fork off of Android, they are free to do so but with the agreement they went into willingly, they will no longer be able to provide core Google services if they then break that agreement.

      Google is just trying to save their experience and if others want to go off the beaten track they can, ala Amazon.

      • http://www.theandroidsite.com benmarvin

        Do you have a citation for that agreement not to fork? Not being pedantic, I'm genuinely interested in the fine print.

        • cybik

          It's not a "not to fork" order per se, but the fork has to be kept compatible with Mainline. Now we know that AliyunOS is a heavy fork of Android that goes too far out, and that El Goog is committed to saying "Hell Naw" should a heavy fork go too far, à-la KindleForkOS.

        • MeCampbell30

          The contract agreement isn't public (i.e. isn't on their website) but I'm pretty confident google lawyers are smart enough to use such a clause. Especially if they are invoking it in press releases.

  • Palmer Nyako

    This is good.
    Google needs to put the hammer down, on certain parts of android.

    • denbo68

      One of the reasons I (and many others) use Android is because it isn't closed like WP and iOS. Don't think this is good at all.

      • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

        I would argue that Android still isn't closed - Google is simply saying that OHA members should not release incompatible versions of Android. If a non-OHA member (like Amazon) wants to create their own fork, that's fine, but devices running said fork won't be connected to Google. I think it's a smart move holding OHA members to their word and at least attempting to protect the experience for Google-connected Android.

        • ltredbeard

          What do you think is up with Google letting the other partners do the same thing?

          • mduran1023

            Maybe it's because oPhoneOS wasn't a threat. It looks like it's already dying/dead.

            From that viewpoint, it might be more important to kill off new forks and work on getting standard versions of Android released, then to prevent something that isn't a threat.

          • ltredbeard

            well ill be watching to see how this plays out

          • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

            mduran1023 has a good point - Aliyun was created by Alibaba Group, a -huge- firm in China with money to put into it. OPhone was created by Borqs, a firm of - according to Wikipedia - 650 employees (compared to Alibaba's 25000+).

            Besides that, Google may have simply decided to take a firmer stance regarding OHA rules.

          • ltredbeard

            i hope they just decided to take a firmer stance and that they stay consistent

          • MeCampbell30

            Google is "letting" anyone do anything. Android is openly distributed. But it's right for google to use some harsh verbiage to prevent a weakening of the android ecosystem.

        • denbo68

          So as a member of the OHA, Acer cannot 'contribute' to an "incompatible version" of Android? But OHA members aren't just OEM's like Acer, they are Mobile Operators and Semiconductor companies as well. So are you saying that China Telecom cannot sell this device because they are a member of the OHA? And ARM, Atheros and Broadcom cannot sell their chipsets to Alibaba as well? Or does this apply to just to OEM's like Acer? That would seem a bit unfair for the OEM's.

          I'm also confused because Alibaba stated this isn't marketed as an Android OS so "of course it isn't compatible". If so, then what is the problem? It isn't part of the 'ecosystem' and isn't connected to Google Play. So how can this cause harm to the Android 'user experience'? It seems to me if the Aliyun OS sux then the market won't want to buy the 'bad experience'.

          Or even better, developers will actually take the Aliyun code and fix it. Isn't that what Open Source is?

          • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

            The issue here isn't whether China Telecom "can" sell an Aliyun device or not (they can do whatever they want), it's whether they (or other entities including Acer) will be following the OHA's rules by doing so, and whether they will benefit from the OHA after doing so.

            Aliyun is a forked, highly incompatible version of Android set to be released on phones by a manufacturer who is supposed to protect the interests of the core Android experience. Google is not okay with that idea, and has said so.

            In case you missed the link, Andy Rubin explains Google's standpoint in great detail here: http://officialandroid.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-benefits-importance-of-compatibility.html

          • denbo68

            Yes, in summary we must destroy the concept of open source to save the "ecosystem".

            To start telling OEM's what version of Android they can bundle on their own hardware smacks of MSFT.

            That's not "open"... that's blackmail. Spin it anyway you like.

            Here's the kicker, what if the Aliyun OS is actually better which is WHY open source is open in the first place? What if it was a significant improvement over stock Android? Well we'd never know will we because Google is doing its best to ensure OEM's who want to do business with Google can ONLY do business with Google.

            This isn't what "Open" is about... this is just crap.

          • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

            I fail to see how the concept of open source is destroyed by Google's reaction. Besides that, I've already addressed your other points - Acer agreed to join Open Handset Alliance. In doing so they agreed to certain principles, one of which being the protection of the core Android experience and ecosystem.
            If they choose to go with Aliyun - which they are 100% free to do - they simply shouldn't expect support from OHA. That's it. No one is stopping anyone from doing anything, Google is just explaining its position that a fork - particularly one as incompatible as Aliyun - has the potential to damage the ecosystem.

          • denbo68

            You said Aliyun has the "potential to damage the ecosystem". Really? Can you tell me how the Kindle Fire had damaged the Google's fragile "ecosystem"? It hasn't because it isn't part of the ecosystem. Amazon has its own app store as would Alibaba would have, correct? So this whole "damage the ecosystem" is nonsense. What it really damages is Google's bottom line.

            And you make it sound so innocuous what Google did to Acer. To quote another article Google threatened to revoke "Acer's license to use Android on its other handsets". Now that really hurts Acer's bottom line. That is what MSFT did to OEM's in the 90's. I guess that is OK with you but it isn't for me.

            And why the draconian move? Is it because Google wants to protect an ecosystem that Aliyun would not be a part of in the first place? No. Google doesn't want to lose the Chinese market to an Android clone (or anyone else).

            That is really what this is all about.

          • Ibrahim Awwal

            Kindle Fire still can run Android apps, this probably can't. That's a huge difference. Also, Amazon isn't part of the OHA and thus isn't bound by their goals.

          • iTKe2k

            kindle fire, an amazone product based on the aosp
            does not have the ecosystem (Play Store) it has the Amazon Store
            which is the alternative to google own services

            "Anyone can (and will!) use the Android source code for any purpose, and we
            welcome all such uses. However, in order to take part in the shared
            ecosystem of applications that we are building around Android, device builders
            must participate in the Compatibility Program."

            unlike amazone acer is part of the OHA
            they receive early access to android source code, play store, google services & support, the can make phones with other operating systems (ios,wp7/8) but they cant make incompatible android os (Aliyun) because they are enjoying those services.
            unless like amazone, they will give up all the google ecosystem (early access to android source code,play store, google services & support) and wont be a part of the OHA.

            again :
            Acer = OHA member, enjoying the terms as long as keeps devices running android compatible.
            Amazone NOT an OHA member, Does not enjoy google ecosystem, instead uses AOSP (which is available only to OHA members before public and does not get support from google)

          • http://twitter.com/LV2355 Laurentiu

            What is the part you didn't understand?

            Read this:
            "Aliyun doesn't use Android's Dalvik virtual machine, and the Aliyun system libraries and programs are not binary-compatible with Dalvik API's[4]. An App Store was launched with the Aliyun that contains downloadable Android APK files."

            So, they use Android apps (apk) to run on this heavily alterated OS. Some apps may work well but others may not and when that's happen the customer will point his fustrations to Android even if this app run well on Android compatible devices. Who will lose from this? Android of course.

          • denbo68

            Ok so open isn't open and that's what you all want.

          • http://www.facebook.com/hudspeth Mathew Hudspeth

            You're missing the point. Google isn't denying them the use of Android. Android is available as open source for anyone who wants it. If you join OHA, you sign up for special benefits that the public doesn't have, but you have to follow certain rules.

            Think of it like a loyalty program. If you promise not to shop elsewhere, you get early access. If you don't follow that rule, then you only get access when everyone else does.

          • wideopn11

            I may be wrong, but I'm going to go out on a limb here. I think possibly part of the issue is that while Android is open source and can freely be used and modified, to use your word of "clone", I don't think companies are allowed to make an andorid clone with a few tweeks, slap a new lable on it and sell it as their own. The key part of that is profit from someone elses work. If it was Apple, Apple would wait for them to release it and then sue the pants off of them. I think this good that Google is stepping in before it gets that far. Just my humble opinion.

          • denbo68

            Actually that isn't the problem. Open source allows one to use, modify and distribute the software. But you are correct in assuming Google wants to stop that. Remember that android is the ui on top of a Linux kernel. Google owes a great deal to open source

          • MeCampbell30

            Google can't "revoke Acer's license" to sell android. Android is distributed on an Apache license. However, google can and should prevent manufacturers from contributing to the core android experience if they are running on offshoot.

            It's a conflict of interest. They may propose changes that would benefit their particular flavor but not android as a whole.

          • mduran1023

            I'll agree that Google is playing hardball here, and that Android may not be as open as you would like.

            But you know what? I think it's important to try and keep a unified ecosystem. That unification is what allows people that are technologically challenged to use Android.

            If Google didn't try to keep things together then we'ld run the risk of it ending up like all the other Linux variants. Nice for people that are capable of making their own tweaks and improvements, but a miserable failure in the hands of consumers.

            God forbid...

          • MeCampbell30

            Just because google is threatening to remove support doesn't make Android any less open.

  • Freak4Dell

    I'm glad to hear this. Google definitely needs to be strict at times. I'm not saying Android needs to be closed (that would kill pretty much everything that is good about Android), but there does need to be some control in order to provide the consumers with the best experience.

    It will be interesting to see if Acer decides to leave the OHA so they can pursue this, or if they'll dump this to stay in the OHA. They're not too heavily invested in Android, minus a few devices, so I wouldn't be surprised if they just back out of the OHA and take their gamble on Aliyun and other forks.

    • http://AndroidPolice.com/ Liam Spradlin

      Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised either. When this story first broke, Acer acknowledged that Google had concerns, but essentially said they still planned to go ahead with Aliyun regardless.

  • mduran1023

    Andy Rubin posted further clarification on his G+ (which I can't easily link to on my phone ... grrr).

    He makes it sound like AliyunOS is Android based, but fails to be compatible with Android Apps, and even links to their compatibility tool.

    I wonder if they wouldn't have put their foot down if this fork was more compatible than it is now.

  • xHabeasCorpusx

    I heard from someone from somewere that their phone had some pirated apps on it as well.

  • http://twitter.com/Darkmyth_pt Darkmyth PT

    Nicely done google

  • kurt hinds

    Google putting their foot down on the unified experience. If Acer wasn't part of the oha, it would be fine!

  • HellG

    this is great! i hope google now turns to the carriers, its really annoying that carries can't touch iOS but go around and screw with android as much as they want and take ages to update and lock bootloaders! verizon just killed google wallet on their phones! WTF its not their damn tright to do so, google really need to keep going android is not that NEW OS anymore its the dominant one, so have some power google!!!, and yeah start patent trolling apple as well :P

  • On The Ground!

    Maybe they don't want to get sued by apple?

  • Himmat Singh

    I still don't get the meaning of the term "incompatible" here. Seems ultra-vague to me, as if even Google don't know what exactly they're going after.

    Somebody mentioned that Amazon's Android version is considered "incompatible", but they are not members of OHA so they're safe. But as I know it, Amazon uses APKs, and so does Aliyun. Somebody please explain the term to if, if you can in a simple manner. Thanks.

    • Himmat Singh

      But then again, Amazon does say that it runs on Android. The fire HD runs on 4.0. However, Aliyun doesn't mention at all that it runs on Android. If by "incompatible" Google means that they don't want Acer to sell their version of Android as well as Alibaba's and get consumers mixed up in the process, then the point is moot. Alibaba doesn't mention Android at all, and thus consumers won't get confused between the two.

      Of course the story will be different if they say that Aliyun OS IS Android....then Acer will sell two incompatible versions and consumers WILL get confused. But that's not the case here. Also, as mentioned above, OPhoneOS is an Android fork that Lenovo AND Motorola are using ad selling in China. Why hasn't Google mentioned this at all?

      • Freak4Dell

        Regardless of whatever wording was used, it comes down to this. Acer agreed to play by certain rules in exchange for the benefits of being a part of the OHA. Google sees this as against the rules. They're not forcing Acer to go to any particular side, but they are saying that Acer must choose one side or the other. They're still free to use Android however they want, but if they choose not to play by the rules of the OHA, they won't get the benefits of the OHA, either.

  • Kojiro Kamex

    I didn't find mutch about oPhone OS.
    So maybe someone hier can answer.

    Does oPhone OS run Android Apps?
    If yes, can Apps be published on both systems without changes?

    My guess is, what pisses Google off at Aliyun is that Aliyun acts as it could handle Android Apps while it can to the full. So you couldn't distribute the app made for the one without problems on the other.

    From what was said from the side of Google I understand it that way, that for example Acer could without Problem make a Amazon Device. As long as you can use the very same Apps on both. (Though, the missing of GPS at the Kindle Fire could be a problem, don't know if GPS is a must inside of the Google Certificates Guidelines or if it is a should.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasonconort Jason Conort

    Google needed to set standards for a long time now, its always been one of the "weakness" of android. I think this is a good step.