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.