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