How long will OEM tails wag the Google Android dog?

Summary:Google and its leading OEM are working at cross purposes. Google says open, the OEM says close.

Google's Android project is unique in computing history. The idea is to run a hardware ecosystem based on the principles of the Linux software ecosystem.

There is a Linux for every taste. There are Linux distros aimed at the cloud, at servers, at desktops and at handhelds. They're all Linux, but your support and experience come from the distro. There's a Linux Standard Base, but the distro doesn't have to follow it.

What this means on the ground is that OEMs like HTC and Motorola are similar to Red Hat, Novell and Ubuntu. They control your horizontal and they control your vertical.

But Google, unlike the penguin, is a big name brand. Google has an image and a reputation in the market that's bigger than, say, Linus Torvalds'. Google's top people have many more zeroes in their net worth than, say, Jim Zemlin.

This puts Google's name out there in ways it can't control, another thing that makes this business case study unique. When an OEM succeeds Google benefits. When it angers people Google will, I think, get some of the blowback.

Take for example the Motorola Droid X. By all accounts a huge hit. People are buying Motorola stock and Verizon is catching up with AT&T. It's being compared favorably with the iPhone.

What can go wrong?

Just this. Motorola included something called eFuse. It runs at boot and shuts down the phone if it finds something it doesn't like. If you try to tamper with or "mod" the phone (as the kids say) it turns your Droid into a brick.

"Real" hackers (and some are more real than others) insist there's a way around this. But regular people are just angry. One reviewer has already turned thumbs down on the phone because of it.

Why is there so much instant blowback on a feature Motorola has been putting into its phones for ages? Possibly because of Google's own AppInventor, which earlier this week held out the promise of everyone, not just the digerati, happily hacking their phones and creating their own applications.

In other words, Google and its leading OEM are working at cross purposes. Google says open, the OEM says close.

How long before this contradiction starts hurting Google? Well, the stories about wild DroidX success and angry DroidX bricking blowback came out within 24 hours of each other.

My guess is not long.

Topics: Software, Android, Google, Hardware, Linux, Mobile OS, Mobility, Open Source, Operating Systems, Smartphones

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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