The dirty little secret about Google Android

The dirty little secret about Google Android

Summary: While Android began with the greatest of intentions around openness and collaboration, here's the dirty little secret that haunts Google's mobile OS.

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Google Android began with the greatest of intentions -- freedom, openness, and quality software for all. However, freedom always comes with price, and often results in unintended consequences. With Android, one of the most important of those unintended consequences is now becoming clear as Google gets increasingly pragmatic about the smartphone market and less and less tied to its original ideals.

Here's the dirty little secret about Android: After all the work Apple did to get AT&T to relinquish device control for the iPhone and all the great efforts Google made to get the FCC and the U.S. telecoms to agree to open access rules as part of the 700 MHz auction, Android is taking all of those gains and handing the power back to the telecoms.

That is likely to be the most important and far-reaching development in the U.S. mobile market in 2010. In light of the high ideals that the Android OS was founded upon and the positive movement toward openness that was happening back in 2007-2008, it is an extremely disappointing turn of events.

When Apple convinced AT&T not to plaster its logo on the iPhone or preload it with a bunch of AT&T bloatware, it was an important first step for smartphones to emerge as independent computers that were no longer crippled by the limitations put on them by the selfish interests of the telecom carriers, who typically wanted to upsell and nickle-dime customers for every extra app and feature on the phone.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said, "iPhone is the first phone where we separated the carrier from the hardware. They worry about the network, while we worry about the phone."

Almost for that reason alone, the iPhone was an immediate hit with customers, despite the many limitations of the first generation iPhone when it was released in June 2007.

Later that year, Google announced the Android mobile operating system and the Open Handset Alliance. Here was Google's statement made at the time:

"This alliance shares a common goal of fostering innovation on mobile devices and giving consumers a far better user experience than much of what is available on today's mobile platforms. By providing developers a new level of openness that enables them to work more collaboratively, Android will accelerate the pace at which new and compelling mobile services are made available to consumers."

Then in the spring of 2008, Google pulled off a brilliant coup in the U.S. government's 700 MHz auction when it bid enough to drive up the price for Verizon and AT&T to lock into the FCC's open access guidelines (which Google helped form). Verizon had initially fought the open access concept with legal action, but eventually made a 180-degree turnaround and trumpeted its own plans to become an open network.

However, Verizon's open network plans have never really materialized. To say the company is dragging its feet would be a massive understatement. The best hope for a popular, unlocked handset on Verizon was Google's own Nexus One.

After launching in January 2010, first with access to the T-Mobile network, the Nexus One was planned to arrive on all four of the big U.S. wireless carriers by spring. The phone was sold by Google, unlocked, for roughly $500. Then users could simply buy service (without a contract) from a wireless carrier. That's the model that has worked so well for consumers in Europe and the Nexus One was supposed to be Google's major initiative to start moving the U.S. in the same direction.

Unfortunately, sales of the Nexus One were tepid and customers were frustrated by Google's poor customer support. By the time spring rolled around, Verizon was still dragging its feet and eventually the Nexus One on Verizon was canceled and replaced with the HTC Incredible, a nice device that nonetheless completely followed the old carrier model.

By some reports, the Open Handset Alliance is in now shambles. Members such as HTC have gone off and added lots of their own software and customizations to their Android devices without contributing any code back to the Alliance. Motorola and Samsung have begun taking the same approach. The collaborative spirit is gone -- if it ever existed at all. And, Google is proving to be a poor shepherd for the wolves-in-sheep's-clothing that make up the telecoms and the handset makers in the Alliance.

As a result, we now have a situation where the U.S. telecoms are reconsolidating their power and putting customers at a disadvantage. And, their empowering factor is Android. The carriers and handset makers can do anything they want with it. Unfortunately, that now includes loading lots of their own crapware onto these Android devices, using marketing schemes that confuse buyers (see the Samsung Galaxy S), and nickle-and-diming customers with added fees to run certain apps such as tethering, GPS navigation, and mobile video.

Just as Google is overwhelming the iPhone with over 20 Android handsets to Apple's one device, so the army of Android phones that can be carrier-modified is overwhelming the one Apple phone on a single carrier that allows it to stand apart and not play the old carrier-dominated game that resulted in strong handsets weakened by the design, software, and pricing ploys of the telecoms.

Despite the ugly truth that Android is enabling the U.S. wireless carriers to exert too much control over the devices and keep the U.S. mobile market in a balkanized state of affairs, Android remains the antithesis of the closed Apple ecosystem that drives the iPhone and so it's still very attractive to a lot of technologists and business professionals because of it.

But, the consequence of not putting any walls around your product is that both the good guys and the bad guys can do anything they want with it. And for Android, that means that it's being manipulated, modified, and maimed by companies that care more about preserving their old business models than empowering people with the next great wave of computing devices.

This article was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Hardware, iPhone, Mobile OS, Smartphones, Telcos, Verizon

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  • RE: The dirty little secret about Google Android

    "The carriers and handset makers can do anything they want with it. Unfortunately, that now includes loading lots of their own crapware onto these Android devices."

    You do realize Android was designed from the start so carriers and handset makers can do with it what they want.
    It's the customers choice to avoid those Androids with crapware preinstalled and thats the way it should be.
    sovok_
    • Absolutely

      @sovok_ I do realize it was meant to be that way -- to an extent -- and that consumers have the right to avoid the phones with crapware. It's my job to point it out so that everyone gets it. :-)

      The problem is that there's also some really good phones with a lot of crapware, like the HTC EVO 4G. And the default install with all of that junk is a battery-life killer.

      Android handset makers and carriers need to pay more attention to the default user experience and spend less time trying to shove apps that makes them extra money at the users.
      jasonhiner
      • RE: The dirty little secret about Google Android

        @Jason Hiner <br><br>This is a case where the feds have to step in and tell these companies "Okay, you can OFFER your stuff to the people... but you cannot PRE-LOAD anything! Give them the address to your website and let THEM make the choice!"

        Same thing they really should do with personal computers, both desktops and laptops.
        Lerianis10
      • RE: The dirty little secret about Google Android

        @Lerianis10
        Yes, that's what we need...more government intervention. It's working so well in our current state of affairs...
        safesax2002
      • But isn't that what it's all about? REALLY??

        @Jason Hiner "shove apps that makes them extra money"

        But isn't that what it's all about? REALLY??

        And let the buyer not "beware" but "be damned."
        PC Ferret
      • Sonofa....

        @sovok_ That's ********, if a carrier says that all of their android phones will come with craplets and locked bootloaders then what choice does that leave you? Verizon has already done it, custom ROM's for any of the shiny new Droids? Nope, not anymore. I still have the original Droid and I have really enjoy trying out different ROM's, overclocking/undervolting the CPU, and uninstalling all the Verizon crap that does nothing but waste memory. When it bites the dust I will go where the unlocked bootloader is, probably sprint since they are the underdog they have the most consumer friendly policies so far. Hell maybe an Iphone even, assuming I can jailbreak it it should be almost as versatile as the droid. Why should I pass on a phone I really want because the carriers want to make an extra dime and cram Nascar apps down my throat? Screw that and screw them. Alas Droid X, it was not meant to be *sigh<br><br>@Jason Hiner Handset makers have to do this stuff, they really don't have a choice. They are at the mercy of the carriers because the carriers sell the phones. If Moto wants to sell their new Droid they have to bend over for Verizon, because where else are you gonna go to buy a phone? The carriers offer subsidies and since the rates are the same subsidy or not buying from anyone else just doesn't make sense financially. yeah it will take more than a half assed attempt by Google to break this sales model, pretty much congress would have to outlaw subsidies or phones would have to get so cheap that we'd no longer need them. I don't see either of these happening in the next decade or two. Now if Google would step up and grow a pair they could mandate that all Android phones be truly open so that the users could load custom ROM's if they so choose. Yeah I'd get behind them again if they did that but for now I guess go Iphone? Ugh, somebody shoot me. Damnit Google you carrier humping surrender monkey, for a little while there I almost thought that maybe, just maybe you might be the not-evil company I was waiting for, the generic corporate logo that I could pin all my shiny fanboy hopes upon. You sir have trodden upon my dreams so goodbye, Why hello Bing, you wouldn't happen to be thinking about a phone would you? Oh you are? That's so interesting, tell me more.
        User 13
      • RE: The dirty little secret about Google Android

        @Jason Hiner I have an EVO. I don't use any of that crap. I have it turned off, so it's not accessing the internet, and I get just fine battery life. Most folks' battery problems are the result of trying to use a computer as if it's plugged into the wall all the time. No, you can't watch Youtube 24 hours a day without an extra battery.

        And considering that the Sprint plan is cheaper than any other provider's plan, even with the $10 EVO surcharge, I really have no problem if they pre-install some stuff I don't use. It's a lot better than the crapware the computer manufacturers pre-install.
        big red one
      • Good luck

        @Jason Hiner maybe while you're at it you can get PC makers to do the same thing. Those default Vaio Vista installs probably cost Microsoft billions.

        I never believed that telecoms would allow as much freedom as even the locked down iphone offers. They want you to pay through the nose for everything. It's free money for them. Why wouldn't they keep it?
        erikswanson
      • Free Love and the little Roid that thought he could.

        @Jason Hiner <br><br>Ahhhh yes, 'Free Love"... "Free Love" in the 60s was an idea of everyone loving everyone, and everyone was supposed to be happy, loved, and loving, and no one would hate, and everyone would get along, and live happily ever after... But human nature killed free love, and always will.<br><br>That same lesson can be applied to open source... You can always find a few hippies that will give it the old college try, but eventually, human nature kicks in and they lose interest and fall to the side. <br><br>Human nature is a fickle beast and can poison even the best intentions. By nature we are lazy, selfish, greedy, egotistical, spiteful, etc. To overcome that human nature and thrive and be happy as a society, we need rules, laws, goals, and structure (A walled garden to the bad in check)... Open source isn't going anywhere.. It's an idea that much like free love, is great in theory, but fails in practice.<br><br>I suspect Google had good intentions when they first thought about doing Android, but human nature came skipping along soon after and poisoned it... And now we have a mobile OS that is insecure and buggy and the greedy are exploiting it in all sorts of ways... Malware, carrier bloatware, bad apps, identity theft, etc. <br><br>Roid phones provide the perfect recipe for people to do the wrong thing.. There is money involved, no one is policing it, and greed gets to reign supreme... The carriers are not going to stop any sooner then the thieves.. And Google doesn't have the teeth or desire to force the original vision.
        i8thecat
      • RE: The dirty little secret about Google Android

        @Jason Hiner
        Alright. I just think it's not Googles job to force carriers and manufacturers. In the end carriers might use Android without Google which would mean more incompatibility for Android.
        People should just buy those iPhones and Nexus Ones or any other phone without crapware to force carriers to rethink their strategy. As long as they buy lots of crapware phones not much will change.
        sovok_
      • RE: The dirty little secret about Google Android

        Crapware isn't the real problem. Crapware exists in PCs. The real issue is that the crapware is locked in and you cannot uninstall it without gaining root. That is probably going to play out in a courtroom eventually. Simply because rooting voids warranty's and to remove useless junk (Amazon MP3 being famously common) someone will eventually sue for ownership of the device. Because a warranty should not hold us back from uninstalling things that we do not want on our computers.
        kwabinalars
      • Don't believe the warranty-voiding LIES.

        Modifying a product does not void the warranty. Claiming otherwise is simply a scare tactic to deter people who don't know their rights, or the law.

        Once upon a time, car companies tried the same BS in order to sell overpriced accessories. The result was the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. If a company wants to void a warranty because of some modification you did, it has to prove that the modifications caused the problem that you're trying to collect warranty service for.

        Don't parrot lies; help everyone out by informing them of their rights under federal law when it comes to warranties.
        dgurney
      • RE: The dirty little secret about Google Android

        @Jason Hiner I don't want an iPhone. If that's what you want then buy one. This is open source. Get used to it. It's not locked to AT&T's desires, or Apple's desires, or Verizon's desires. That's the point. You don't seem to be arguing that Microsoft is shoving ever more apps at people with each new OS release? Tell me the difference.

        As long as the user can remove them, I don't really care.
        blueskip
      • Is that not what Google is all about?

        Money?
        Tim Cook
      • RE: The dirty little secret about Google Android

        @Jason Hiner I agree 200%. I think what the carriers fail to realise is that such practices do not engender customer loyalty. The average unsophisticated user may at first enjoy playing with the numerous crapware installed, but they very soon realise 90% of the "value added" software/cloudware is poor value for money and sits unused on the handset for it's entire useful life. Of more value are the plans that include (for example) a facebook webapp, or even just a shortcut in the UI, and free facebook usage included in their plan. Such bundles offer the non-technically inclined user real value for money without having to pay for a healthy dataplan. These are the carrots carriers should focus on. Nickle and Dime marketing ultimately leave the consumer unimpressed.
        pitdroidtech
      • RE: The dirty little secret about Google Android

        @Jason Hiner This is a case where the feds have to step in and tell these companies "Okay, you can OFFER your stuff to the people... but you cannot PRE-LOAD anything! Give them the address to your website and let THEM make the choice!"<br><br>Same thing they really should do with personal computers, both desktops and laptops.

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        samjenko
      • RE: The dirty little secret about Google Android

        @Jason Hiner well, okay, perhaps it's a tweener - but in its two-odd years in the public spotlight, the list of truly revolutionary devices to use it has been a significant one: the G1 for being the first to market; the Nexus One for ushering in a new (and subsequently killed) retail model; perhaps the CLIQ for introducing Motorola to the platform or the Droid for bringing the company some desperately needed, long overdue success. <a href="http://www.protopage.com/ways-to-make-money-from-home">Ways to make money from home</a>,<a href="http://www.protopage.com/food-lovers-fat-loss-system">Food lovers fat loss system</a>,<a href="http://www.protopage.com/dotties-weight-loss-zone">Dotties Weight Loss Zone</a>
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      • RE: The dirty little secret about Google Android

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      • RE: The dirty little secret about Google Android

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      • hence the popularity of jailbreaking

        @Jason Hiner

        I agree that the amount of crap that comes with phones is appalling. In the UK if you get a subsidised phone (not really susidised anyway, but that's another story) you get a whole host of crap bundled with it. Then, even worse you have to pay them to unlock the **** thing when you find a cheaper contract with a rival company.

        Well, you are supposed to pay for unlocking but there's cheaper ways.

        For ages now I only buy phones that are totally network free, I never buy subsidised contracts.

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        AlexAnders2