Android not Truly Open-Source either…

by Matt Klassen on February 18, 2014

Since Google first rolled out its Android platform we here at theTelecomblog have trumpeted one cold hard truth: Android isn’t really free. In fact, while the platform is supposedly available at no cost—augmented by the licensing fees you’re bound to end up paying to someone like Microsoft in order to use Android—the necessary software to create a legitimate Android platform experience requires you to pay licensing fees, making the whole prospect of employing Android for free just a little more expensive.

But Android’s dirty little secrets don’t stop there, as recently experts have started to seriously question Google’s other Android boast, that its truly open-source. By definition open-source would mean that Android’s code is open to all, able to be modified and customized to the whims of the developer. But according to excerpts of documents revealed by Ben Edelman, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School, such is not the case.

In fact, the report indicates that Google imposes the same sort of draconian restrictions on smartphone makers and app developers that we might expect to see in a mobile application distribution agreement (MADA) from rival company Apple, leading me to wonder just how Google defines “open-source,” as it clearly differs from what the rest of us think.

Now don’t get me wrong, Android is still infinitely more customizable than Apple’s iOS, or any other mobile operating system currently on the market for that matter, but if you think Android is truly free and open-source, well think again.

The problem with Android, according to Edelman, is what developers must agree to in order to use Android. Briefly, if developers want to use Android they need to agree to install all apps Google specifies, that’s how Google establishes its foundation for widespread mobile advertising after all. But this agreement is an “all-or-nothing proposition,” meaning that if developers want to install one Google app, they have to install them all, and follow Google’s instructions on their location within Android itself.

Now we’ve already mentioned that using such apps requires one to purchase a license from Google, calling into question the notion that Android is ‘free,’ but Edelman’s complaint is that being required to include Google’s apps is stifling the customizability of the platform itself, calling into question the notion that Google’s little green droid is legitimately open- source.

Simply put, Google’s restrictions hamstring competition, putting developers at a disadvantage as they attempt to try to differentiate themselves within an ultra-competitive Android ecosystem. Sure smartphone makers are able to put their own apps on their Android phones, but given the fact these sit right beside Google’s required services, users are often left confused and annoyed by the redundancy, and in a battle of such duplicates, Google always wins.

Further, Edelman notes, developers and smartphone makers will be increasingly wary to create their own apps as including them won’t lower any subsidies they would need to pay for licensing the Android platform.

It seems that the only real alternative is to do what Amazon and Nokia have done, creating their own forked versions of Android that have no connection to Google Play or the search engine giant’s world of popular services. While such a course costs money, a great deal of it, we can at least say that in this case alone that Android is clearly open-source, just not free and certainly not available to everyone.

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