Over the years the one thing that as set Google’s Android operating system apart from Apple’s own iOS is that Android has always been open-sourced (sort of), available to all to tinker and modify…if they’re willing to live by Google’s rules of course. By contrast, Apple has always controlled its proprietary platform, not allowing anyone else to modify it or use it in any way. Two paths to success, both with significant positives and huge drawbacks.
For Android the greatest drawback has always been fragmentation, that with so many people deploying so many different versions of Android, that security and cohesion across all devices becomes a serious issue. For iOS, the problem has always been Apple’s draconian control, dictating everything with a “take it or leave it” attitude.
But as friendly and open as Android has appeared over these last few years, it seems Google may be poised to follow Apple’s path towards proprietary control, as rumours continue to circulate that given the company’s desire to gain better control over Android development that it will have to combat fragmentation, and the only way to do that would be to standardize a closed version of the platform.
Such speculation has once again come to the fore during this week’s Recode conference, where Google’s CEO Sundar Pirchai discussed at length his firm’s desire to “put more thought” into its own branded Nexus line of devices. For many, such thought is veiled code for take more control, and to do that, Google is going to have to change the way Android is run.
As one blogger notes, it’s likely that Google is going to want to increase the user experience on its own Nexus devices by offering more features built into its platform. But ensuring those features perform up to standards and don’t drain battery, the company will need to implement tweaks and changes to Android’s code. What many suspect is that this process of tweaks and changes will invariably lead Google to the realization (or perhaps simply admitting) that the only way to ensure a high level of consistent user experience will be to create a fully closed, proprietary version of Android for its Nexus line.
Then, once that closed version of Android is in the wild, and of course assuming that it’s considerably better than the open source version we currently have, Android partners will begin lining up to adopt it in their own Android devices.
That would then lead, I assume, to a two-tiered approach to Android deployment, the free, open-source version for entry level partners in the Android ecosystem, the closed, proprietary version for the serious, established vendors.
While open source is what has made Android so popular, with growing security concerns and an increasingly differentiated user experience across the entire ecosystem, by creating a proprietary version of Android Google would be able to fix the fragmentation issues that have always plagued the platform, giving the company better control of software updates and, thus, better control over device security and overall experience. Of course given that Google has always held considerable control over Android anyway, perhaps calling it open source has always been a bit of a misnomer.