Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: Android

How Google plays hardball with Android

I wanted to link to this Ars Technica post on Google’s levers of control over the Android ecosystem by Ron Amadeo, mainly because it’s a really nice piece of reporting. He explains how Google has reduced the open source footprint of Android and migrated to closed source versions of many of the key applications and services that Android users expect. Google then uses bars Android handset makers from making non-approved Android devices in exchange for licensing these closed-source applications.

This answers the question of why there aren’t more Android forks floating around, and sheds an interesting light on the Kindle Fire:

This makes life extremely difficult for the only company brazen enough to sell an Android fork in the west: Amazon. Since the Kindle OS counts as an incompatible version of Android, no major OEM is allowed to produce the Kindle Fire for Amazon. So when Amazon goes shopping for a manufacturer for its next tablet, it has to immediately cross Acer, Asus, Dell, Foxconn, Fujitsu, HTC, Huawei, Kyocera, Lenovo, LG, Motorola, NEC, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba, and ZTE off the list. Currently, Amazon contracts Kindle manufacturing out to Quanta Computer, a company primarily known for making laptops. Amazon probably doesn’t have many other choices.

I actually don’t think this is particularly evil, but I do think it gives lie to the claim that Android is really an open platform.

Something iPhone users take for granted

When Apple entered the mobile handset business, one of the biggest breaks they made with tradition is that they retained control of the software update process for the iPhone. Regardless of your carrier, which software runs on your phone is between you and Apple, and Apple does a very good job of maintaining support for old handsets with their software updates.

In many cases, with Android, it’s up to the carriers when your phone gets new software, and they have not broken with their long tradition of being very conservative when it comes to distributing software updates. A couple of weeks ago, I was able to update my 27 month old iPhone 3GS to iOS 5 the day it was released. Many people buy Android handsets and never get to run the most recent software, as shown on this chart.

For many customers, this is probably not a big deal. They’re fine with running the software that shipped with their phone as long as they own it, but I find it strange that enthusiasts are OK with it.

How Android is like Windows

I’ve been saying for some time that in the smart phone market, Google is Microsoft and Apple is, well, Apple. Apple was never going to be the dominant player in this market in terms of market share, simply because they only have one or two phone models at any given time, are only on one carrier in the US, and won’t license the operating system to any other handset makers. They want to sell enough high margin products that people love to be extremely profitable, and are very successful with that strategy.

Google, on the other hand, gives Android away to anyone who wants to put it on their handset, and have been rewarded with rapid growth. But I don’t think that Android’s user experience will ever match the iPhone’s. For one thing, because Android is used on so many different kinds of hardware, it will be difficult to achieve the level of integration that Apple has with the iPhone. And for another, the carriers and handset makers are guaranteed to make the Android worse, just as the PC makers have consistently made Windows worse over the years.

This is from Eric Burke’s review of the HTC EVO:

Android makes vendor customizations possible and this phone demonstrates just how poorly that can be done.

He has a list of examples. That’s just not something you have to settle for when the iPhone is out there.

Apple’s restrictive platform

Here’s Tim Bray (now officially part of the loyal opposition) on the iPhone:

The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord’s pleasure and fear his anger.

I hate it.

I hate it even though the iPhone hardware and software are great, because freedom’s not just another word for anything, nor is it an optional ingredient.

I love using the iPhone, but to a growing degree I’m starting to hate the fact that I love using the iPhone.

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