November 24, 2014

Is Google Android Open Enough for the End User?

For days I’ve being reading on tech blogs and in discussion boards on how open Google’s Android is. Some wonder whether it is even open at all. With all the latest happenings regarding the new SDK only being issued out to a selected few of developers leaving the others stranded in old SDK wilderness for God knows how long.

My worry is not whether or not Android will be open. I have no doubts that it will be open. But will it be open enough for the end user? Will it be possible for us to remove and add anything we like to an Android phone or will the carriers still reign superior on what we can and cannot do with a device our hard earn cash has bought? Call me naive, but it is difficult to see why carriers would give in to Google and Android unless there is something more sinister at work that we are yet to know about.

Users who want a fully open device, capable of doing anything with, make up a fraction of the millions of subscribers a carrier has in its clutches. I have personally spoken to a lot of mobile subscribers and a majority of them don’t care too much about being ‘open’. They just accept whatever their carrier dish out without making a huge deal out of it. What is Google doing to do to make sure that the few in the world who appreciate open truly get that? Whenever we pick up the newest Android phone from our carrier, are we going to to be hindered in some way from taking advantage of the Android openness glory? It would be a real disappointment if Android just turns out to be another mobile phone operating system.

I’m hoping that when my sweaty palms get hold of one of the first Android phones I will be able fire it up and instantly remove all unwanted predefined carrier items. I want to be able to run any application I so desire, launch some Instant Messenger client and never worry about text messages again. I also want to be able to make calls using some random VOIP application. If I end up unable to carry out those tasks, or a host more, then why would I, and everyone else here, continue supporting the platform? We deserve an OS that is open for the end user, the people who matter most, not the carriers and their investors in expensive suits who have no idea what open is all about.

Maybe it’s high time Google think about their own network or partnering with an existing carrier who is not afraid of opening up because if Android ends up being part open and part closed then all Hell’s gonna break loose. I’d hate to say it, but I could definitely see myself being part of the angry mob.

  • http://commonsware.com/Android/ Mark Murphy

    I hate to rag on a fellow AndroidGuy, but…

    “Call me naive, but it is difficult to see why carriers would give in to Google and Android unless there is something more sinister at work that we are yet to know about.”

    With a Windows Mobile phone, you can install whatever you want.

    With at least some flavors of Symbian phone, you can install whatever you want — I think the only limitations are whether some versions of Symbian even have the concept of installing other applications.

    With the iPhone, you can install whatever Apple says you can install, and it’s unclear how much of a vote AT&T gets, beyond perhaps the no-VOIP-over-3G limitation.

    With PalmOS phones, you can install whatever you want.

    And, frankly, I have no idea how BlackBerry works in this area.

    Given the track record of these other smartphone platforms, what evidence is there that carriers would somehow prevent people from installing their own applications, since they don’t seem to be doing much of that today?

    “They just accept whatever their carrier dish out without making a huge deal out of it.”

    Which is why nobody ever buys and installs ringtones…oh, no, wait, ringtones are a preposterously big business.

    And it’s why nobody ever actually puts music on their MP3-capable phone…oh, no, wait, phones that double as MP3 players have reasonable popularity.

    And it’s why the iPhone App Store is a pile of tumbleweeds…oh, no, wait, something like 10 million apps were purchased or otherwise downloaded in the first short period the store was open.

    If purchasing and installing applications on a phone becomes an experience more like buying ringtones, it’s got every chance of being popular. Setting up sync cables and going through that method for installing applications is more tedious than a lot of people were interested in. It’s also why the popular iPhone applications seem to be ones somebody might buy on impulse, since they’re only a few dollars.

  • Justin

    Thanks for being the only Android blog I know of that actually continues to post insightful articles (or any articles at all) even during a lack of “big” news.

    @Mark Murphy

    With regards to your point about being able to install applications on other smart phones… You cannot modify those closed operating systems to suit your taste/needs.

    “Given the track record of these other smartphone platforms, what evidence is there that carriers would somehow prevent people from installing their own applications, since they don’t seem to be doing much of that today?”

    There are tons of examples of this. How about the locking down of features? The iPhone cannot use stored MP3s in the player as ring tones, forcing you to go the JailBreak route or buy them. Multiple carriers lock down the GPS receiver and force you to pay for their navigation software.

    “They just accept whatever their carrier dish out without making a huge deal out of it.”

    You missed the point of this. The author was talking about included capabilities and features or the lack thereof. Purchasing offered downloads has in no way, shape, or form anything to do with customizing the features of the phone/open OS.

  • http://commonsware.com/Android/ Mark Murphy

    @Justin:

    “You cannot modify those closed operating systems to suit your taste/needs.”

    I think this is a question of terminology. One can view a smartphone platform as having three possible layers where one might modify bits:

    1. Modifying content (ringtones, wallpaper, etc.)
    2. Modifying (adding/replacing/removing) applications
    3. Replacing the OS (in firmware) itself

    I interpreted the original post as referring to layer #2, and I may have made a mistake there, for which I apologize.

  • James Bailey

    “The iPhone cannot use stored MP3s in the player as ring tones, forcing you to go the JailBreak route or buy them.”

    This is misinformed. You can’t use MP3s or AAC files stored on the iPhone as ringtones but you can use both Apple supplied (garageBand with iLife) and third party (http://audiko.net/) to download any ringtones you want to create using non-DRM music sources.

  • Todd

    If Google posts the source code somewhere, with the Apache license applied, it’s “open, OPEN”. “Open” enough for Consumers, developers, non-OHA members to reverse Engineer.

    Getting that sinking feeling it isn’t going to be released under Apache? Yeah, me too. :(

  • Bob

    If Microsoft can lose an anti-trust case for bundling all microsoft products and forcing users to use IE in Windows OS…. why can’t the same case apply to wireless companies *cough* Verizon Wireless *cough* forcing users to use their awful awful interface and their applications only? Today’s phone is no longer just a phone… it’s more and more like a PC. Same rule should apply.

  • Vamien McKalin

    “With a Windows Mobile phone, you can install whatever you want.

    With at least some flavors of Symbian phone, you can install whatever you want — I think the only limitations are whether some versions of Symbian even have the concept of installing other applications.

    With the iPhone, you can install whatever Apple says you can install, and it’s unclear how much of a vote AT&T gets, beyond perhaps the no-VOIP-over-3G limitation.

    With PalmOS phones, you can install whatever you want.”

    @Murphy: What I wrote about has to do with my own experience coupled with other user problems I have read over the internet for the past couple years. Frankly not everyone enjoys the freedom of doing what they want with their WinMo, Palm or Symbian phone on a particular network hence my concern for Android.

  • http://gphonesystem.blogspot.com AS

    Good question / post, Vamien! I hope Google does not forget that being open for end user customization is supposed to be one of the key differentiators of Android. If they abandon that key aspect, then they will be competing with other phones only on the feature-list. That would make them merely an also-ran and not a pioneer in anything. It would cost the Android platform dearly.

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