Google recently updated its SDK license terms for the first time in a long while. While most changes are minor, one change has been grabbing quite a few headlines – Google's proclamation that those using the SDK are disallowed from taking "any actions that may cause or result in the fragmentation of Android". Here's the full clause in question:
3.4 You agree that you will not take any actions that may cause or result in the fragmentation of Android, including but not limited to distributing, participating in the creation of, or promoting in any way a software development kit derived from the SDK.
Many outlets report that this change is in response solely to the perceived "fragmentation" problem that has plagued Android's image for so long, putting the onus on developers, rather than handset manufacturers and wireless carriers. It's true that the language in the first part of the clause uses the words "any actions," but we think Google had a very specific purpose for this change of terms, and it isn't meant for developers – Google wants to prevent another Aliyun fiasco.
What it Means
Let us harken back to the Aliyun saga. For those who don't remember, Aliyun is a mobile platform built by a Chinese internet firm that is – by some metrics – the country's largest. Many of us first heard of Aliyun when Acer abruptly canceled a launch event for their A800 smartphone built with the platform in mind. Alibaba spread word that the cancelation was due to a "warning" from Google that they'd cut off Android dealings with Acer if the event proceeded.
Google soon piped up, explaining that Aliyun was not a separate platform, but one made by tearing underlying frameworks and runtime from Android. In Google's words, Aliyun was a "non-compatible version of Android," barely able to run Android apps properly, never mind Google services.
Not long after Google's initial word, we discovered something else that may have been at the heart of Google's concern – we independently confirmed that Aliyun's own app store was a virtual treasure trove of pirated Android apps (including many by Google itself).
The entire episode was very illustrative of Google's true stance on the openness of Android, and the updated TOS for Google's Android SDK appear to represent an official declaration that things like the Aliyun incident should not happen again. Google, in the updated license, is essentially saying that if you use the SDK to make something that isn't fully real, fully compatible Android, your rights to it will be revoked.
What About Amazon?
Of course, the first thing that will spring to some readers' minds (including my own) is – what about Amazon? The debate is heated as to just what relation Amazon's fork has to true Android. Aren't Android forks, by definition, derivatives of Android?
It's important to note though that just because Amazon has a fork, they aren't necessarily breaking the rules because they don't distribute a derivative SDK – Amazon, after all, relies on apps developed using the standard Android SDK, with their own mobile SDK used as a means of incorporating Amazon services (since Amazon can't make use of Google services) – the SDK itself is not derived from Android's.
So, in the end, the TOS change has little to do with individual developers, and is more focused on stamping out the development of incompatible Android clones. Google wants to make sure that those using the SDK are not using its components to build their own derivative SDK or pumping out broken platforms based on Android, thereby fragmenting the overall environment. For the full TOS, just hit the link below.