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Google Fights Back Against Android Fragmentation 373

Posted by Soulskill
from the one-version-to-rule-them-all dept.
bonch writes "Google is tightening its control over Android in an attempt to standardize the platform. Licensees must agree to a 'non-fragmentation clause' that gives Google final approval over operating system changes, allegedly sparking complaints to the Justice Department. This follows Google's recent decision to withhold the source to Honeycomb from non-privileged partners, a move that has drawn criticism from openness advocates. Google says that Honeycomb will be open sourced when it's ready for other devices."
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Google Fights Back Against Android Fragmentation

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 04, 2011 @02:08PM (#35710748)

    Well, mostly open. Except when it isn't.

    • About not releasing before it's ready: They are doing closed development. That's actually the mode the FSF has traditionally worked in (note that this was one of the reasons for the egcs fork of gcc), therefore it quite obviously doesn't make the code less open source (or even less free software), although it makes for a less open development model.

      However the restrictions to approved modifications might indeed make the code less open source, however it depends on how they are doing it. If they say "OK, you

      • by rolfwind (528248)

        They're probably doing this via copyright, "If you make changes we don't approve, you won't get to stamp it with android nor use any android copyrighted artwork in your derivative OS." Or something like that.

    • Well, mostly open. Except when it isn't.

      I had a wife like that...

  • by paulsnx2 (453081) on Monday April 04, 2011 @02:09PM (#35710762)

    Motorola's "enhancements" to Android make the Atrix nearly unusable. My wife moved from the iPhone to the Atrix, and it is only because Android does allow customization that I was able to download enough skins and fixes to make the phone usable.

    AT&T wants to push their useless buggy navigation to the Atrix, despite the fact that Google's navigation works just fine.

    All in all, the fresh and clean Android I have on my Nexus One is almost completely corrupted by Motorola and AT&T on the Atrix, and this isn't done because it is in the interest of the customer. This a push of crapware onto the customer serving interests at Motorola and AT&T

    • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday April 04, 2011 @02:12PM (#35710828)

      So? Isn't the point of open source that other people can take it and modify it to try out ideas?

      • The problem comes when all three carriers force bad ideas on their customers.
        • by alen (225700)

          that's the business model difference between iphone and android. apple makes money on the hardware, accessories and applecare. with android the carriers make money on the accessories, ad revenue sharing, the crap ware and the monthly insurance that some people buy

          • Since when is apple a carrier?

            Last time I checked, Carriers make money through call tariffs - barely from accessories or ad revenue etc.
            Apple makes their money from selling the hardware. Motorola, Samsung, HTC etc make their money also from selling hardware.

            Some carrier see greater value in Android as they can fill it up with their rubbish content and try making even more money - beyond the call charges.

            Thankfully, Android is open and you can just rip away all the garbage some carriers push into it.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by LoganDzwon (1170459)
              unless you can't, since the openness applies to the manufacture, and they choose if they pass that onto you, or sign the firmware and lock the boot loader.
          • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

            with android the carriers make money on the accessories, ad revenue sharing, the crap ware and the monthly insurance that some people buy

            Excuse me, but I thought that the "carriers" made money from carrying calls and data.

            This is a very clear example of why we need Net Neutrality laws and why "carriers" should not be allowed to become content providers, advertising companies, insurance companies, or software developers.

            Here's a novel concept: The Justice Department needs to do its job and start busting up

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          When Android was first announced I said that an open source phone OS wasn't worth much without good hardware and a good network to run it on.

        • by dafing (753481) on Monday April 04, 2011 @04:29PM (#35712988) Journal
          See, I remember all the Android arguments, "ITS FREEEEEEE!1!1!" when I mentioned having an iPhone. I love my phone, its slick, built like a piece of jewellery, very fast, takes gorgeous photos, it works great.

          The supposed argument for "open" would be that "all the bad carriers will get kicked out, people will get fed up with their bullshit products, and go to another vendor. Consumer choice!"

          Erm, no. The US market is already among the worlds worst for carriers, seriously, here in New Zealand - basically any other developed nation - I take my Micro SIM out, flip in a new one from any of the three major carriers, and it Just Works. I bought my phone outright, but even "on contract" phones are sold "unlocked" in NZ.

          The reality is, "The Free Market" involves crooked deals among The Big Boys, ie Google giving out favours to Manufacturer X, so they get "The Best Phone", often with an exclusive new version of the OS, while the others - including other very big companies, some of which were the FORMER poster child - have to quietly whine, and wait for the new update, if it comes at all.

          Think about the number of "Android device makers", how many are actually worth shit? I'd think about five, max! HTC, Motorola, perhaps Samsung (very high end tech in some ways, utterly crap quality in others).... hell, off the top of my head I only got three that I'd consider decent. The rest seem to be "clone phone" makers, the same crap, competing on price, "gotta make if five dollars cheaper than the other guy".

          And they all come loaded with BS! Except for the "stock" phone, which is what I'd go for. Oh, but theres not currently a "stock" phone with the larger screen? With a dual core CPU? So, people might be lured away from The Righteous Path, into crapware oblivion.

          The majority of people seem to put up with the awful ads, the programs you cannot delete (without superpowers), they take it as a given.

          Its the new version of "intel inside", everyone wants their little medals to show up, to build brand recognition, to profit from the consumer.

          I'd rather have a "free market with rules", with a Google who sets limits, ie no trial apps that work for 15 days, then ask you for ten dollars, that will otherwise remain on your phone undelete-able for eternity.

          If you're an Android user, speak up about this! Send a polite complaint email to the manufacturer, I dont think they will care about "your phone is the sux coause the motorolas has the sweet as screen...", and lets get people INTERESTED about how their devices SHOULD work!
      • by GooberToo (74388)

        Yes, but the failing isn't with Google, rather its the fact a failed idea has been used to punish a user by preventing them from then moving to something which actually works.

      • by TheCRAIGGERS (909877) on Monday April 04, 2011 @02:15PM (#35710876)

        That would be a good point if I could take my phone and modify it. Motorola also has a pretty firm stance on locking down the system so I can't get at it.

        • by AdamThor (995520)

          Mod parent up. To paraphrase the Matrix: What good is the source code, if you are unable to compile and install it?

          The solution of choice for users would not be Google holding more control back for itself, but passing control to users rather than carriers. Not that this is necessarily viable in either a technical or economic sense.

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        So? Isn't the point of open source that other people can take it and modify it to try out ideas?

        It's also so the code is completely transparent - you know what it's doing. Many eyes make for better code.

        What AT&T is trying to do is lock customers into AT&T as their sole source of support and products. More money for them, right?

      • by Zeek40 (1017978)
        Taking it and modifying it to try out new ideas generally voids your warranty, which most people aren't willing to do to a several hundred dollar piece of equipment.
        • by Rich0 (548339)

          Well, it probably doesn't legally void the warranty, but it will take you a few years in court to settle that one...

      • by Albanach (527650)

        The trouble is that, for most folk, there's no ability to customize their phone. The only group benefiting are the handset manufacturers and network operators.

        If they were not making phones with locked or difficult to upgrade firmware it might be different, but in actual fact they're trying to foist their changes upon users and are certainly not making it easy to revert to a vanilla Android install in the sense that you could reinstall your PC with Linux or Windows as soon as you get it home.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by ceoyoyo (59147)

          Google tried making phones and nobody wanted them. So now they're going to slowly stop sharing their OS, hey?

          There's a company that's been doing that for a while now... oh yeah, Apple.

          • Except that Google didnt try to make anything, HTC made the phones. Google just wanted to control their own distribution channel. And who said nobody wanted them? They pulled back the N1 due to hardware issues and realized that they didnt want to get involved in the handset market. Apple on the other hand wants control over every step of the process.
      • by elrous0 (869638) *

        The point of Android is to sell phones. It's not a social experiment. If you want to see how commercially successful it is to let anyone fork their own version, take a hard look at how far it got Linux. Dozens of distros and not a one of them ever even came close to mainstream success.

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          So what you're saying is that open source is not viable for commercial products?

          • by rtaylor (70602)

            I think he's saying open source does not make a commercial product immediately viable.

            Very few people run out and buy something just because it is open.

        • by Rich0 (548339)

          I'd say dozens of distros is the reason linux is as successful as it is. Imagine of slackware were your only choice, and things like RHEL, Arch, Debian, Gentoo, or Ubuntu were legally forbidden?

          The issue with android isn't that it is fragmenting, but rather that carriers make forks and then prevent customers from having a choice. What Android really needs is GPLv3.

      • Yeah and the point of an e-Fuse is to prevent you from doing that.

        If HTC were to release some open phones that the user could choose to install Android or MeeGo on, they'd at least become the go-to phone manufacturer for geeks, and probably take a big bite out of the mainstream Android market.

      • by rolfwind (528248)

        I have never seen mass licensed OEM manufacturers add much in value to the software of the hardware they're selling. Mostly the exact opposite. Whether it be computers or phones. Most pre-Smartphone phone software imo sucks, as does most of the hardware interface.

        Manufactures don't make good designers imo.

    • Root your phone and load Cyanogenmod or some other OS. That's really the way to go.

      • Unfortunately an option on any of the current Motorola lineup, and that lineup seems to be the go-to choice for regular Joes...

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      This has been the bane of Windows for years. I never understood why Acer sells computers with bloatware as that shit just hogs the hell out of the CPU and HDD and must have just given them a bad name more than anything.

      This lack of stupid shit is what makes Apple's more pleasant to use out of the box and a strong argument to retain control of the environment -- the fact that Google is now doing this is basically a submission that Apple was correct in this regard.

      (P.S. I'm just speaking of this specific asp

  • The ultimate irony (Score:5, Interesting)

    by webrunner (108849) on Monday April 04, 2011 @02:09PM (#35710766) Homepage Journal

    Google wants to close android in order to keep the manufacturers from closing android further.
    Openness advocates are fighting to protect the rights of the manufacturers (that of closing Android)

    I'm not sure who to root for here, so I'll just say GO LOCAL SPORTS TEAM

    • by GooberToo (74388)

      That's an easy one. You want to root for Google. Google wants a kind of openness which is good for everyone, especially including Google. The manufacturers want an openness which is only good for them and bad for everyone else; basically attempting to reshape Android back into the status quo.

      With Google's solution, everyone wins to some degree except the manufacturers. With the manufacturers, only the manufacturers win and everyone else loses.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday April 04, 2011 @02:38PM (#35711240)

        "Google wants a kind of openness which is good for everyone, especially including Google."

        Right. Google wants what is good for Google. That is, they want Android on lots of devices so they can sell lots of ads.

        Google thought making Android open source would be the best way to accomplish that, and it's worked pretty well so far. Except for this little bobble with fragmentation. Google couldn't care less whether you can upgrade the OS on your phone, or customize it as you wish. Actually, they probably prefer you can't, because hardware upgrades keep the manufacturers happy (more of them will use Android, more ads for Google) and no end user modifications prevent you from blocking their ads.

        Notice how Google ISN'T making an issue out of carriers and manufacturers locking down Android phones.

        • by GooberToo (74388)

          Actually, its to Google's own advantage to encourage devices to become upgradable. They've already suffered as a result of manufacturers and carriers dragging their feet. It hurts Google, it hurts developers, it hurts the the platform, and ultimately their revenue by falling behind in competition. Having said that, pragmatically, they do not make up the entire ecosystem. That means fighting the good fight but picking your battles. You can't alienate your jockeys on an unproven horse, right out of the gate.

        • If Google prefers that you can't update or customize your phone, why are the phones with Google's name on them the ones that are the most frequently updated and easiest to customize.

    • It's easy - which team wants to keep Android open for you as the end user?

      Which team wants to lock everything down so they can continue to charge 20 cents for 140 characters of text?

      I'll take the "closed" Google version of Android, thanks :)

    • by fermion (181285)
      Android is becoming closed because Google want to make sure it continues to serve the Google doctrine, that is the ability to run Google branded content and present said Google branded content continuously to users.

      With carrier level innovation, the real and present danger is that carrier will include equal or superior applications, will not liscense equal or inferior application from Google, and the Google brand will suffer. We see this best with Honeycomb. This is a new platform which could provide a

  • by trollertron3000 (1940942) on Monday April 04, 2011 @02:10PM (#35710792)

    As much as I love Open Source I can see their point and I can't counter it. If we continue this fragmentation is it really going to benefit android or will it cause harm? If the goal is usage, which it is, then this is one way to enforce some standards and drive that goal. If the goal was software freedom it would be another story. But we knew this going in, it was never the goal.

    • by bryan1945 (301828)

      I am interested how people will respond to your point. Apple locks down their iPhone/iPad/whatever for this reason, and /. freaks out. How will /. respond to Google starting to do the same? I have no pony in this race, as I have a mere dumbphone and no pad/tablet of any type.

      • I don't think anyone who has looked at Android phones can deny that the iPhone's locked down, Apple-specified (rather than carrier) nature has been a huge advantage. Most Android phones are loaded with garbage.

        Even at the most benign level of carrier/manufacturer customization - skins and visualization stuff - they fuck it up. Different skins and whatever is fine, and there are some nice community-made options, but it's clear that the carriers and manufacturers make things different just to be different, no

      • by GooberToo (74388)

        First you need to establish how they are "locking down" the platform? You are free to branch the available source any time you want. How is that even remotely close to Apple's platform where the source isn't even available? One is open with a closed door development model plus tiny proprietary components (device drivers) while the other is completely closed and proprietary. They are as different as night and day. One is open sourced while the later absolutely is not.

        I have no idea why so many seem to get of

    • Using a GPL code base there isn't much Google can legally do to prevent how the code is used. On the other hand there is nothing stopping Google putting limitations how the Android trademark is used and what gets to use their market place.

      • by hackstraw (262471)

        On the other hand there is nothing stopping Google putting limitations how the Android trademark is used and what gets to use their market place.

        That is what they do. The Android name and robot logos are trademarked and your hardware and use of software must meet some criteria from Google to use the Android trademarks.

        Maybe I should read the FTA (ducks), but to me it would seem as though this trademark limitations would to some degree limit the fragmentation of the Android market. I guess that the trademarks could not limit things like replacing and adding apps on the phone. I have an Android phone. A Samsung Fascinate. And I would trade it for

      • That just covers the Linux kernel, the majority of Android is actually Apache-licensed, and that limits them even further.

    • As much as I love Open Source I can see their point and I can't counter it.

      That's because the marketplace for telecommunications is broken in this country. Phones and service should not be allowed to be tied together. Fix that fundamental problem and open source will be just fine on your phone. For that matter most other proprietary software would be better too as it would have to compete for the consumer's approval as opposed to the carrier's.

  • Easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MDillenbeck (1739920) on Monday April 04, 2011 @02:11PM (#35710796)
    Allow the manufacturer to customize the hell out of it, but write into the license agreement that all functionality must work a vanilla install that is made available OTA. That way a user can go into the update menu and select "update to latest Google version of Android supported by your phone's hardware WARNING: ALL MANUFACTURER CUSTOMIZATION WILL BE LOST". When on vanilla, make the latest manufacturer switchover available. If they did this, how many of us would still be on 2.1 or 2.2? That would be the best of both the worlds.
    • The best part about your solution is that it sounds like it might be compatible with the licensing that the software Android is based on comes with. Which I do not believe that Google's solution is.
    • by jarich (733129)
      That's brilliant. Let Sprint put their crap Nascar apps and everything else on my EVO, but require them to have a button for an over the air plain vanilla latest Android install. Add tons of warnings, etc, but provide that button. I love it.

      That would highly motivate carriers to ~add value~ instead of taking dollars from partners to shove crap on phones.
    • by scragz (654271)

      Allow the manufacturer to customize the hell out of it, but write into the license agreement that all functionality must work a vanilla install that is made available OTA. That way a user can go into the update menu and select "update to latest Google version of Android supported by your phone's hardware WARNING: ALL MANUFACTURER CUSTOMIZATION WILL BE LOST". When on vanilla, make the latest manufacturer switchover available. If they did this, how many of us would still be on 2.1 or 2.2? That would be the best of both the worlds.

      It could be YEARS before Vanilla is released. They're only on Gingerbread!

  • by nimbius (983462) on Monday April 04, 2011 @02:15PM (#35710870) Homepage
    could GPLv3 have perhaps prevented in some way this "fragmentation" problem?
  • by rwa2 (4391) * on Monday April 04, 2011 @02:17PM (#35710920) Homepage Journal

    The manufacturers were really getting out of line. With every Android device I've purchased so far, the first thing I've had to do was replace them with a custom ROM that was closer to Google's core release. The manufacturer's junk (HTC Sense, Viewsonic TnT, etc.) was really getting in the way.

    TFA points out that the non-fragmentation clause was always there, Google is just trying harder to enforce it nowadays.

  • Open source and Linux fans may hate to hear it, but fragmentation doesn't produce better product. It just makes everything a giant, confusing pain in the ass, especially for developers who have to develop for the platform. With Android, you not only have to design for specific versions of the OS, you also have test it out on specific phones because HTC and others have taken it upon themselves to throw their own flavor of the OS on top of everything else. It's confusing to consumers and often embarrassing to

  • Why not do something like THX used to do for theater sound systems? Trademark the 'official' powered-by-android phrase, run a certification program, let the vendors customize all they want -- they get to use the OS but not necessarily the 'brand'.

  • Most fragermentation up to now has been due to hardware. My G1 (and the MT3G) won't run Gingerbread, no matter what. The OS finally outgrrew the old hardware.

    Now, my G1 does run Froyo, CM 6 something, but that is a struggle.

    And the memory constraints weren't limited to those phones. A few Moto phones also lack memory.

    The next big problem is melding the UI some makers have into a new release. Blame openness.

  • by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Monday April 04, 2011 @02:36PM (#35711214) Homepage Journal

    Google could reserve the Android trademark for non-fragmented distributions. This would make handset manufactures make the choice between keeping the brand recognition of the Android OS or going it on their own and losing that right and any support that may go with it. The attitude could hurt Google, but it would probably hurt handset manufacturers more as people decide they want the security of a platform with less surprises.

    Technically no one can really stop Android from being forked, but at the same time there is nothing stopping Google preventing you from being able to use their trademark.

  • So, after all the statements from Google and comments here on Slashdot insisting there was no fragmentation - now Google wants to prevent what isn't happening from happening.

    How 1984 of you Google.

    • by LodCrappo (705968)

      I never saw anyone say there was no fragmentation in the Android world. I heard lots of people say that fragmentation wasn't a problem, and I'd tend to agree with them. Before the anti-Android crowd made up this "fragmentation" thing, we used to use terms like "variety", "diversity" and so on.

      • by Americano (920576)

        Then you haven't been reading Slashdot much. Every time someone makes a comment about Android being fragmented, they get jumped on by a half a dozen True Believers who loudly and crudely remind us that "Android isn't fragmented, that's just bullshit FUD being spread by Apple fanbois who are scared that Android is beating their pet product."

        Call it by whatever name you want, the tone here on Slashdot has been:
        1) There is no fragmentation, that's just FUD;
        OR
        2) It's not fragmentation, it's diversity & v

  • Well I am torn. See I recently picked up a Viewsonic G-Tablet. A nifty little bugger (odd viewing angles, but hey - I don't care that some schmuck next to me on an airplane can watch my Angry Bird Marathon in full crisp color) and all sorts of snappy hardware. The problem is Viewsonic's OS flavor is poop. A giant pile of poop. Their half-assed "market place" is crippled and broken. Lacking 99% of everything. Why?! why smear good hardware with da poo-poo? Thankfully I educated myself a head of time,

  • I don't think people have realized yet the incredible impact it has on a company to have an IPO and become publicly traded. Going forward, Google is going to start operating a lot more like any other publicly traded company, because the investors are now in charge, in the long run. Their purpose now is to increase the value of their shareholders, that's just the way it works if the public owns your company.

  • IMHO, rather then lawyering up with licensees, let the prospective buyer of hardware download a test sweet that checks the API. If this check fails customer then knows that the phone is not an Android.
  • by DrJimbo (594231) on Monday April 04, 2011 @03:27PM (#35712002)

    I smell Microsoft.

    Go here [android.com] to download the Android source code. Then read the license here [android.com]:

    The preferred license for the Android Open Source Project is the Apache Software License, 2.0 ("Apache 2.0"), and the majority of the Android software is licensed with Apache 2.0. While the project will strive to adhere to the preferred license, there may be exceptions which will be handled on a case-by-case basis. For example, the Linux kernel patches are under the GPLv2 license with system exceptions, which can be found on kernel.org.

    As others have already suggested, the FSF friendly way to "gain control of and final say over customization" is through the trademark, not the software license. There is no evidence in this article that this is not the path Google is taking, yet we got a plethora of posts saying "On noes! Google has become evil!".

    You know the funny thing? This is yet another example when Google does something very good [slashdot.org] (standing against software patents in this case) and then gets slamed with make-believe charges that they are doing something evil. It is clear, to me at least, that is is just another foray in Microsoft's attacks on Google [groklaw.net] because they know they can't complete technically. It's like this decade's version of what was reported in the Halloween documents [catb.org]

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