November 23, 2014

Was Google's Hand Too Heavy?

heavy_androidAndroidGuy was formed in the backroom of a T-Mobile retail store in early November 2007. I, along with Scott and a few others were giddy about the prospect of owning a mobile device with little to no restrictions. We would be able to run any flavor of the Android platform that we so desired because it was going to be open source. It was going to revolutionize the mobile phone industry as we knew it. Carriers would no longer hold all of the chips, as they would be forced to compete for users on a more level playing field. If I didn’t like the way I was being treated I would just take my open source handset, and go play somewhere else.

Fast forward two years, and let’s take a look at the state of the mobile phone industry. From my vantage point very little has changed as it relates to the end user’s experience. T-Mobile’s Android based handsets are locked down just as much as an Apple iPhone or a Window’s Mobile device, and the Android platform isn’t exactly the panacea I thought it would be as I sat at that table two years ago.

This brings us to the recent dust up in the Android community. Google’s decision to enforce the Terms of Service violation clause on Cyanogen’s works can’t be argued. Google does in fact own the intellectual rights to its apps, which gives them the right to control distribution. Some might argue that the software is already free to anyone who chooses to use it, so why would Google even care? I am sure Google would argue their software is in fact free, but it’s free on their terms and they have an obligation to their shareholders to control the way that distribution takes place. Anyone attempting to form an argument on Cyanogen’s behalf is wasting their breath. Rules are rules, and these happen to be in black and white.

It is my belief that Google acted totally within their rights legally, and their reaction wasn’t heavy handed at all. As much as I wanted to blame them for dropping the hammer they simply had no choice here. I’m sure they don’t believe Cyanogen’s works were sinister in any way, but in the end they were backed into a legal wall. If they didn’t go after Cyanogen regardless of what his intentions were it could have made it more difficult to stop other abuses down the road. There’s no nice way to do what Google did, because there’s no way of tip toeing around the TOS.

What I find ironic about this entire episode is that Cyanogen does what he does because there’s a definite need for it. Had it not been for Cyanogen 4.0.4 I was all set to dump my My Touch 3g and deem it unusable for everyday activities! In fact if you were in the chat room during last week’s pod cast you may have seen me trying to hock it for a G1. The stock ROM it shipped with to put it kindly left a lot to be desired in terms of stability and speed. Thanks to Cyanogen I now have a phone worthy of the “next gen” moniker.

Two years ago I never would have imagined Google playing the “TOS card” because it hasn’t been a part of their past make up. However, two years ago Android was a mere glimmer in most of our eyes. Perhaps this is the beginning of the revolution we envisioned two years ago. It’s a brave new world.

  • http://rufphus.blogspot.com rufphus

    i agree with you 100%. From what i've heard, cyanogen is working on some new methods that are supposedly legit. On his site he has two possible ways of dealing with this: creating a completely bare bones android, no maps, gmail, market, etc. and then create open source apps to replace the apps missing OR another way that involves users backing up their apps and injecting it into the cyanogen mod. Now I am fairly new to this platform and very new when it comes to cyanogen (and others) and his (their) work but these both seem like nice alternatives.

    as for whether i think google was in the right, of course they were and from what i've read this was the nicest way they could have dealt with it. i really respect both parties for handling this as well as they did.

  • Chahk

    I respectfully disagree. I think that whoever in Google corporate decided that C&D letter was the best way of dealing with the situation needs to be fired by Google's PR department.

    Moreover, the entire "proprietary code" confusion should've been avoided from day one by Google releasing all of the apps in question as open-source. Providing a branch that is unusable without the core apps was a mistake. Not taking action for over a year and making ROM cooks think including these apps is acceptable was an even bigger mistake. Spitting in the face of community that did nothing but better their device is shooting themselves in the foot.

    I now understand why HTC's won't port Sense UI to "with Google" branded phones. They must've hit similar roadblocks.

    • carig

      i agree with this side of the argument

      "heavy handed" doesn't necessarily mean they acted illegally but that they handled the situation in a clumsy and inconsiderate way that at least made them look like a big company that could care less about the little developer or relatively the small percentage of techie users rooting their phones

      i don't necessarily agree that they should've seen this coming or that they have to make their apps open source, it'd be nice but i'm sure they have their reasons not to, what they do need to do, however, is learn from this and at least make a way to distribute their apps outside of the business deals to ship them on the phones, perhaps they could've done that already in the year it took them to respond to this situation

      i'm not gonna say google is acting evil, but if they want to come across as a company that supports its developers (a valuable resource now that apps are playing such a huge role in smartphones), then it really needs to try harder

      just look at palm right now, the way they've been so transparent about issues and gone through every effort to show support for their developers lately has been refreshing to see from a company after seeing so much of apple's benevolence, google could learn a few lessons from them

  • Mattle

    Great balanced perspective. While this is obviously a disappointing situation for the end users, me include, Google had no choice. There is no question that Google is in the right legally. I just wish there was an amicable solution that kept cyanogen's brilliant work flowing down to our devices. I'm sure there are many people at Google who feel the same disappointment we all do.

  • http://www.psychocats.net/ubuntucat A.Y. Siu

    It is my belief that Google acted totally within their rights legally, and their reaction wasn’t heavy handed at all.

    These two ideas are unrelated. What Google did was totally within their legal rights. That doesn’t mean the reaction wasn’t heavy-handed.

    How about a simple polite phone call to Steve Kondik? Why a cease-and-desist letter? Was he being uncooperative before?

  • http://www.ragtop.org Jeff

    Its just another case of the legal department of a major company not caring about anything other than legal matters, including PR. If Google was smart (or if their departments talked), they would opened up a dialog with Cyanogen (with no threats) and tried to figure out a way to make everyone happy. Instead, they took the C&D route. If they were concerned about the legal ramifications of having Cyanogen continue to distribute Google apps without authorization while another solution is worked out, they could have granted him a 30-day license to distribute them therefore making it legal while talks continued. Instead, they took the C&D route. Overall, it could have been handled a lot better. So yes, Google's hand was too heavy. About the only good thing to say about Google's approach here is that they just went the C&D route and not straight to the lawsuit.

  • david

    As posted elsewhere you missed the boat IMHO, "…It seems to me that Google should not be including commercial apps in an open source OS in the first place. It is ultimately their responsibility to remove them, not the developers. They could have avoided a lot of grief if they had done so, and not thrown it on the backs of the developer community. That’s what doesn’t sit well with me over this whole situation. You can’t give a cupcake away and tell the recipients they can’t eat the sprinkles…"

  • phecker

    That is an interesting though david. Here you can have the donut but not the filling.

  • Svenners

    Hey. I think that Google has simply acted as the fall-guy in this situation. It is more likely that they were asked to by HTC and Motorola to put a stop to this activity, and make it clear to the ROM developers that they need to respect their intellectual property and their closed-sourced applications. Think about it, do HTC like having their UI and apps ported to non HTC devices? No. Will Motorola like MotoBlur being ported to other devices? No.

    I do agree that that there does need to be a usable Android branch which is fully open source, and I am sure(hope) that Google will sort this out. And yes, my G1 is only usable with a Cyanogen build so I am really hurting now.

  • http://schwiz.net schwiz

    within their legal right of course… but lets face it, you can download the same apps straight from the web (minus the market and google maps) for iphone and blackberry, for free, no strings attached. Yet when in comes to the very platform they created it gets all complicated why hold yourself back like that?

    Plus its not only a matter of the apps, but also the the actual closed source drivers that allow the phones to actually work! So now a loan google employee is selflessly working his ass off to fix the problem? Whats the point of having an open source platform that doesn't actually work with additional source code that comes at an extraordinary fee? Seems like a gimock to me…

    That said I do love android, and although its slow as hell on the g1 its not necessarily the fault of the OS, a few years from now when the hardware is cheaper it will be running on better phones.

  • Jamie Hunter

    Schwiz I used to think the hardware was to blame too, but how do you explain the boost that same hardware seems to get when its running on Cyanogen's ROMS? I'm putting the blame solely on the Android developers for the sluggish performance on both the G1 and My Touch 3g. I've owned both, and my experience was eerily similar with both devices. That being said, "beefier" hardware will never hurt and is always welcomed!

  • A S

    I have no idea why AndroidGuys feels the need to justify Google's actions. There have been at least THREE articles on here doing just that. Come on guys, we know you are Android fans (I am too – heck, I've written a couple of articles on this site myself), but don't be afraid to call Google out.

    Jamie wrote: It is my belief that Google acted totally within their rights legally, and their reaction wasn’t heavy handed at all. As much as I wanted to blame them for dropping the hammer they simply had no choice here.

    This is not true at all! There were so many choices that Google had and still has. A couple of them come to mind:

    1. Politely ask Cyanogen not to include their proprietary apps in his builds. Instead, Google would make those apps available for free download on Android Market.

    2. Enter into an official, legal agreement with Cyanogen and give him the authority to include the latest and greatest official version of the apps in his builds.

    Come on, Google! It's still not late to rectify your mistakes and show us that you walk the talk.

  • robisaks

    This is getting insane!

    people, this does not make google=apple.

    from the story: "T-Mobile’s Android based handsets are locked down just as much as an Apple iPhone or a Window’s Mobile device"

    Really? cause last time I checked, iPhone users could not set background, or replace the dialer, or change the lockscreen. how does that make android just as locked down?

  • http://twitter.com/jewjawsh @jewjawsh

    I definitely agree. My stock mytouch was nice, but once I started loading upwards of a dozen or so apps, I noticed slowdown, lag, and freezing, a lot. cyan 4.1.11.1 fixed a lot of that, and while it's not perfect, I have to say that I prefer it to what Google had on there in the first place. I don't think I'll be trying the legit version of donut, simple because I'm happy with what I have now. Unless for whatever reason it outperforms cyan's ROMs, then I might be tempted to switch. That's really all Google has to do to hurt the custom ROM market, take a note from it and improve their faults. /endrant