Random Rants

Anything that tickles my fancy.

Google needs a tighter reign on the Android platform

Posted by silverstag on November 23, 2009

Disclaimer: I love Google as a company and I am excited about Android as a platform. 

First off, I need to give props where they are due. I’m drawing heavily from a post I saw on my twitter stream and from my own experience working on a product that went through much of what is happening to Android . The title of this post may seem to be an oxymoron. How can Google exercise greater control on a Open Source platform? Well, they can if they wanted to and it won’t need to go against they unofficial motto of “Don’t be Evil”. 

In a short span of time, Android managed to get on a myriad devices and is serving various consumer markets. That is no mean feat. And it has been possible only because it was an Open Source platform. As much as I love Google for Open Sourcing such a beautiful OS, the current situation is not sitting well with me. But then again, I’m not an expert and Google might know better than me what they are getting into.

Here’s the current Android scene as I see it. There are a bunch of devices on the market running Android and they are not essentially running the same OS. It might be the same at the core but not throughout. You want examples? How about Motorola Droid, Sony Ericsson’s XPERIA X10, Barnes and Nobles’ Nook, Archos 5 PMP, T-Mobile G1 and HTC Hero. Can you say they all run the same OS? I can’t. They run their own version of an Open Source OS. And Google is not helping the current situation by being preferential. Yes, I’m talking about Google working closely with Motorola for Android 2.0. I understood why they did that with G1, they were just starting off an they need to market a product soon.

You might ask what’s particularly wrong with all this so, here are some questions: Can you pick an app from the Android market and have it run the same on all the devices that run Android? Can a developer make an easy choice as to which Android version he should build apps for? Can a consumer switching devices expect to find all the apps he had on his previous device? I didn’t think so. The problem is, each device manufacturer gets to make his own mind about what will run on his product and Google doesn’t have any say in it. It will be tough for Google to dictate manufacturers as to what they should run. Tough to dictate, not to influence. There’s a fine line. Developers and consumers are the key and not Google or any other company. For a platform to thrive, Developers and consumers need to be happy. That’s a tough mix though and that’s what Apple and Google are not able achieve. Developers are not happy on Apple’s platform and consumers won’t be happy on the Android platform (they are not yet unhappy).

Now that we know the problem space we can discuss a solution. In my opinion Google should work with all vendors on getting Android on their devices and should actively push updates to respective devices or at least get the vendors to do it. That’s easier said than done. The only other way out is for Google to turn into Apple and I don’t see that happening for many reasons, even if Google wanted to. 

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