Google Android 3.0 "Honeycomb": Open source no more

Google Android 3.0 "Honeycomb": Open source no more

Summary: Shouldn't software either be open source or closed source? It doesn't seem like there's much of a gray area in that.


In a disappointing move, Google has restricted access to the tablet-oriented version of Android, also known as Honeycomb. Version 3.0 of Android, which many have called a fork of the mobile OS (and now it looks like they were right), is now closed source, with access only going to OEMs and specific developers. While Google claims that they don't want people experimenting with the OS on smartphones for which it wasn't designed, one has to wonder if there aren't other motivations for the move.

According to BusinessWeek,

...throngs of smaller hardware makers and software developers that will now have to wait for the software. The delay will probably be several months. "To make our schedule to ship the tablet, we made some design tradeoffs," says Andy Rubin, vice-president for engineering at Google and head of its Android group. "We didn't want to think about what it would take for the same software to run on phones. It would have required a lot of additional resources and extended our schedule beyond what we thought was reasonable. So we took a shortcut."

A shortcut that certainly goes to the heart of whether Android truly is "open source." In fact, it goes right to the heart of whether Android's "openness" is a competitive advantage any longer when independent developers can't get at the source code for Honeycomb and design the next great thing in the tablet space. I wouldn't have to work too hard to argue that tablets are actually quite a bit more interesting in terms of potential use cases than phones, but those interesting use cases will require specialized software and interfaces. No open source, no brilliant new medical device, no drastically improved e-reader, no new approach to the legal pad, no whatever that requires developers to take a deeper dive than merely creating an App.

Android is frequently compared to Microsoft Windows when PC clones took off and hardware simply became a commodity. Google prefers to call Android the Linux of mobile operating systems. Unfortunately, that's hardly a title they can claim when they close source code at their convenience.

Google claims they wanted to avoid having developers create a bad user experience. How about a caveat along the lines of, "Hey, we know this is open source, so whatever you can do to get the cool UI enhancements and great features working on phones woud be much appreciated. We don't recommend hanging your hats on it as a smartphone platform, but that's just us." It would probably offend open source sensibilities far less than closing the code when it makes good business sense for Google and its OEM partners.

I'm a big Android fan. I'm even a Mac user and I still dig Android. But, aside from its awesome integration with the Google tools I use all the time, I dig it on principle. If I ever find a reason to get a tablet, it'll be an Android tablet. Those principles of openness are what keep me from even giving a sideways glance at Verizon iPhones or the very slick iPad 2. But if those principles go away, I might as well fully buy into the Mac ecosystem. Or, perish the thought, jump on the WebOS bandwagon (tiny little bandwagon that it is).

Read more about Honeycomb: Google has forked Android IcedRobot launches Android fork to mitigate Oracle-Google war Android 3.0 - It's not a fork (Damn, I was wrong) Android 3.0: Hell Yes It's a Fork. But Who Cares?

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Hardware, Mobile OS, Open Source, Smartphones

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • RE: Google Android 3.0

    We saw what happened when ViewSonic tablets filled the shops with Eclaire tablets claiming to be Android Tablets. I am willing to give Google the time to straightenout things, as long as they open it in the end.
    • RE: Google Android 3.0

      @tatiGmail What are you talking about? Eclaire is a Android build.
      • RE: Google Android 3.0

        @Jimster480 It is android, but eclair is not a tablet OS version of Android.. Honeycomb is.. if Google hides honeycomb from the masses, then the tablet experience is rather limited when compared to something like the iPad if developers can't get it as readily... at least it pushes out Android as a iOS competitor a few more months or more rather than the late April date that people where expecting when Xoom/Motorola rights stopped being exclusive.
      • RE: Google Android 3.0


        I think Google failed at branding. It's not surprising. It's not like their Apple, which ONLY does branding. The problem with the Viewsonic is that it IS Android, but it IS NOT Eclair. It's BASED on Eclair. Ubuntu is BASED on Debian, which is BASED on the Linux kernel. Ultimately, it goes back to the fact that most people shouldn't have been granted a high school diploma. A square is always a rectangle, but a rectangle is not necessarily a square.
      • RE: Google Android 3.0

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      • RE: Google Android 3.0

        Android is far from successful even at a numbers standpoint. Google loves to tout numbers, but the only numbers they don't bother highlighting are the return rates
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  • RE: Google Android 3.0

    Hey, you forgot about Windows Phone OS...err, actually, no you didn't. :D :D
    • Because he's talking about tablets.

      Try to keep up with the story.
      John Zern
    • RE: Google Android 3.0

      Oh right I got it, you are just trolling. Good Luck.
      Ram U
  • RE: Google Android 3.0

    It's not closed. Really. It's just in the "Honeycomb Hide-out" playing Doctor.
    • RE: Google Android 3.0

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  • RE: Google Android 3.0

    So the next time google wants to do an update to it's android they will again close off their platform from others contributions to it unless authorized by them. Sounds like Apple to me. Companies are only as open as their business models allow. You get what you pay for.
    • only difference: Apple doesn't even offer &quot;open&quot;...

      ...ever. Apple allows you to make an app, that's it.

      I think Google is on a very tight deadline before this slap to the face leads to a new fork of Android (one that *is* open, for tablets)
      • RE: Google Android 3.0

        @shryko I agree, we may see another LibreOffice success Story, when Oracle messed up OpenOffice License, who knows, it might work for the best, the Community Participation is far wider than the Company itself, and Android may get a better Community Fork/Support, so I can still see a bright day, in this foggy night!
  • RE: Google Android 3.0

    Ok everyone, It's time to go to ios. You know, unless small things like Meego/Moblin or WebOS work.
    • RE: Google Android 3.0


      IOS ??? for what? No Flash video, limited formats, no Visio, no can read passworded pdfs??? That would be great advice for business users, NOT.

      Half you guys are just fanbois that cant see past the logo. Get out on the streets and see the kit. Forget the badges and logos... go look at the cool slabs that you can actually draw with a pen and achieve proper results rather then the 10mm crayon effect on the ipad. gee whiz you can actually write on some... try that on an ipad.

      Some of you guys couldn't possibly use something that did a job better. Indeed how could it be better if it doesnt have an Apple logo. How silly of me.
      • RE: Google Android 3.0 Your little anti Apple rant just goes to show you are no better or worse than the fanbois you are talking about. Small mindedness is no better if you are a hater or a fanboy, either way you just don't get it.
  • whoa lets not overreact

    Google has delayed it, it will come out soon just not right now. Calling Android not open sourced because it has delayed a release is a bit drastic. Google has done this with every release. Meaning it hasn't immediately released its source code, this guy needs to chill because this is reasons why google may not update us on future releases someone will take it the wrong way. The fact google is fixing the problems I think is outstanding. But it would be cool if google had nightlies and stuff like that
    • Agreed!! GET IT RIGHT!!!

      I completely agree with what you are saying, this is the truth! Google is not restricting access such as Apple does with their iOS platform, they are just waiting to get the bugs out before their final release!!! GET IT RIGHT!!!@maxohkc
      • But, it's already out there...

        @dustinday So you mean to say all those people who have bought the Xoom at $800 a piece all have a buggy incomplete OS on their devices? Putting a buggy OS out there for people to use is no way to treat your customers. There is absolutely no reason to close a public project temporarily except for behind the scenes politics between Google, the telcos and manufacturers.

        With the arrival of HTC now signing their Android builds after Motorola getting away with using eFuse, this is looking to be the beginning of locking users out from modifying their devices which is now a very worrying trend.

        One day, I have the feeling that in order to please the telcos Android will be open only to manufacturers. Don't forget that taking Android closed-source also has benefits for Google as an advertiser. They don't have to re-open their repositories. There is nothing compelling them to do so.