Talking tech since 2003

Recently I have been reading quite a few articles online that have questioned the openness of Google’s “Android” mobile operating system; a platform that has grown significantly since it went mainstream in 2009 and appears to be taking a long-term grasp upon the smartphone market.  You see, Google has recently implemented a few restrictions with the Android operating system that they say will help the platform to remain competitive and one step ahead of the competition.

While this actually means very little for day-to-day Android users, it does limit the level of customization that device manufacturers can make to the OS itself.  Moreover, while Android’s source code will be readily available to the public, the public code will not be made available until a time after it has been formally released.  And at that, only the core of Android – not the standard “applications” shipped with the device are or will be open source.  Last but not least, those testing pre-release versions of Android will only be able to do so on emulators; not on the device itself.

Many people see this as a huge step back for Google’s Android OS, which had previously sported the concept of openness and user freedom. But quite honestly, I think that Google is entirely in the right when it comes to protecting Android.

One of Android’s biggest “features” was the fact that it was open and that OEM’s (and users) were free to mold and adapt the OS to fit their needs.  This, however, has potentially been one of Google’s biggest problems.  If people are able to take Google’s developmental work and make gross profit from it, the question of moral inevitably comes into question.  With this in mind, I believe that Google has no other choice but to impose restrictions on the Android OS, or continue to become taken advantage of by OEM’s.

One also has to consider that every company big or small has “trade secrets” which help them to gain an upper-hand or leading-edge in a market that they want to become successful in.  I can easily see where Google has been in an ugly position that has allowed for their own competitors to take advantage of Google’s own work to develop software and products that had and could have the potential to compete directly with Google.

Seeing as how Google is a company that exists at core to make profit, why would they want to continue giving their own competitors the work that could very easily be turned into a competing product for Google?

And really, I think Google has simply gotten to the point where Android has grown too much for their current development system to remain effective.  Long story short, Google is likely in a position where managing the Android project has become more of a task that they had thought it would be, and with the popularity of Android growing exponentially something had to be done in order for Google to be able to continue Android development they will need to do so on their own terms.

When you take a step back and look at the overall scope of things, Google isn’t really doing anything that unorthodox.  Many other projects such as VirtualBox have “open source editions” of their code in addition to a closed-source version.  The companies behind these projects typically do so in order to protect their work while still being able to contribute to the open-source community by pushing certain parts of their code base to the open-source version as time goes on.  Google really isn’t doing anything all that different.

Lest we forget, iOS, the operating system used on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad is entirely closed source and Apple is very restrictive as to who is allowed to get their hands on pre-release copies.  So can we really blame Google?

Asides from the whole issue of openness, it has become evident that Google is trying to make Android a more business-friendly platform to compete with RIM’s BlackBerry and even Apple’s iPhone.  This can be seen in Google’s recent launch of enterprise-level management and communications utilities which makes it easier for businesses to securely integrate Android devices into their Google Apps environment, as well as manage device “policies” to lock down the devices; a trait only really seen in iOS and BlackBerry devices.

Combine this with the fact that Andy Ruben, the head of the Android team at Google has been promoted to work closer with big players like Larry Page, and it becomes quite obvious that Google has something up their sleeves with Android’s future.  Think about it.  They’re suddenly protecting their work in order to remain competitive, and Ruben has been promoted to a position that vividly illustrates the fact that Android is among Google’s highest priorities.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sure scratching my chin.  What do you think Google has in the works?

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