Taking back Android: Should Google be controlling the ecosystem?

Taking back Android: Should Google be controlling the ecosystem?

Summary: The Android ecosystem is becoming unruly and Google naturally wants to step in to preserve its quality - but is that Google's role in the bigger picture?


Certainly, Google's latest controversy surrounding the Android operating system is giving critics plenty of ammunition to question the company's commitment to a truly "open" operating system.

Bloomberg last week reported that Google is tightening the reins on Android, limiting some of the freedoms that carriers and device makers have had with the mobile OS in the past - such as customizing the software, forming partnerships around the ecosystem or gaining early access to software updates. Now, anything that will be associated with Android will reportedly need approval from Google.

To a certain extent, the criticisms are deserving. Google talked a good talk about being truly open when Android first hit the scene just a few years ago - and now the company is being compared to Apple, known for its controlling hand over all things iOS.

But things have started to become unruly in the Android ecosystem. Having multiple device makers and carriers in the portfolio can help fuel growth but it can also create confusion as it leads to a flood of apps and even versions of the OS compromising the experience.

The Bloomberg post quotes John Lagerling, director of global Android partnerships at Google, who said that the company is focused on quality control and is building toward a "common denominator" before it allows companies to start adding, rearranging or otherwise customizing the OS.

In other words, Google feels that it has an obligation to deliver the best possible product, right? That doesn't sound so unreasonable, especially to a consumer who wants the best possible user experience instead of one that was rushed or, worse yet, released too early.

But one of the problems is that Google isn't actually selling a product. It's providing a platform that relies on the likes of Motorola, HTC, Verizon, Sprint and others to deliver quality products to the end-user. It tried to sell a product - remember the Nexus One? - but that didn't really work out the way it had been envisioned.

Dare I say that, as the platform maker, you can't always preserve the quality of your product - especially if you'll let anyone develop on its open platform? Just ask Microsoft.

Maybe the bigger question here has less to do with Google's efforts to reign in the Android ecosystem and more to do with Google's exact role - and the expectations that go with it in the Android ecosystem? Certainly these devices out there - whether tablet or phone - are Google devices just as much as they are Motorola devices or Sprint devices.

But how much of a role - or responsibility - should Google have in the larger equation? And, more importantly to some, can Android be "truly open" if Google keeps a heavy hand on it? Certainly, Google should be asking itself these sorts of questions - especially as Android's popularity continues to grow.

There are all sorts of other issues that make the controversy that much more juicy - favortism, competition and even the Justice Department, all put out there in the Bloomberg report. But the idea of Google defining its role in this larger mobile environment is one that should try to be answered early - if not first.

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Topics: Software, Android, Banking, Google, Operating Systems

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  • RE: Taking back Android: Should Google be controlling the ecosystem?

    Google?s Andy Rubin Q&A last October:

    Consumers vs. Carriers People have been saying that the freedom of Android has basically meant that the carriers are free to screw the consumers.

    If I were to release an operating system that I claimed was open and that forced everybody to make (phones, Tablets) all look the same and all support very narrow features and functionality, the platform wouldn?t win. It wouldn?t win because the OEMs have a lot of value to bring and the carriers have a lot of value to bring, and they need a vehicle by which to put their interesting differentiating features on these things. Every phone (Tablet) shouldn?t look like every other phone (Tablet). If that was the case there would just be one SKU, right? The whole idea here is just to figure out what consumers want, build phones and tailor them to what consumers want.

    But you guys do have minimum standards for Android devices. So why not say you can?t build devices that don?t accept non-market applications? Where do you draw the line?

    Well, it?s tough to draw the line, and we think about that a lot. First of all, we don?t like drawing lines. We like making exceptions, and we learn a lot in the process. ? <b>The point of being open is that I?ve given up control of what can be put on phones (Tablets), and put it in the hands of everybody in the community.</b>

  • You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube.

    Google can tighten up Android all it wants, but it's not going to get the result it expects. On one hand it's going to annoy the freetards. On the other, Google will never be able to build as seamless an ecosystem as iOS/iTunes for the "I don't care about ROMs or Root, I just want it to work like an iPhone" crowd. The real X-factor will be how the OEMs react.

    Google is taking away Android's biggest plus for them, so suddenly they have to ask themselves "why am I wasting time in this space?" LG has been losing money on every handset for a while, and HTC pays Microsoft a license fee on all of it's Android devices already. If HTC now has to pay Microsoft [b]and[/b] get Google's permission to "add value" to it's Android devices, concentrating [almost] exclusively on WP7 suddenly makes a lot of sense.
  • RE: Taking back Android: Should Google be controlling the ecosystem?

    I'd seriously get a Sprint Google Nexus S if I can get a data-only plan, but right now, I am paying $39.99 for T-Mobile WebConnect Overage *F*ree Plan (hoping to get around ZDNet's spam filter with the "f-r-e-e" word).
    Grayson Peddie
  • RE: Taking back Android: Should Google be controlling the ecosystem?

    I'd like to see Google take a responsible role of not necessarily making every device or version the same, but to have standards of what "shovel/crap-ware" can be installed.

    Take for instance Motorola's earlier & current iterations of their "MotoBlur":
    -Your device will run like crap and you can't do anything about it till we feel like fixing it (as there's no profit in it, we at Motorola only care about the bottom line if you can look at our recent history with our devices and electronics in the last 5 years).
    -If our servers go down you can't sync ANYTHING (Facebook, Twitter, email, and all that's associated with our super fast MotoBlur).
    -You can't use standard Google Apps that everyone else has because we want you to pay for the crappier ones (i.e. TeleNav versus Google Navigation).
    -You can't update your phone as we have too much proprietary crap that's useless, and we blame the Android OS for this.
    -You can't....
    -You can't...
    -You can't..

    Taking into consideration the numerous "you can't(s)" ala Motorola and some other handset makers in this regard, I think they took "open" and closed it off pretty well. In turn screwed customers (me and many others) out of $300+ and weren't able to use the service we paid for to its extent. MotoBlur wasn't carrier installed, it was Moto this time around especially the proprietary GPS nav app you "had to" use and pay for monthly (that didn't work, TeleNav; and couldn't uninstall among alot of other *ware), all the while being stuck with a broken version of the Android OS that was known for memory leaks and numerous issues (1.5). Not until almost 2 years after the release they started offering a new OS version from 1.5 to 2.1, not even 2.2 which was out? I moved to a G2 after that, same hardware stats, a 100mph faster. Upgraded the Cliq to the "new release" to see what would happen, other problems ensued and gave up since I was going to give it to my girfriend (went with the ASUS GarminPhone instead), the Cliq is now a brick of sorts. From friend's feeling of Cliq 2, same issues and concerns, all over just a newer version of them. Just look at the Motorola Cliq/Cliq2 support forums compared to HTC G2. Minor issues that any handheld is expected to have.

    Point being:
    I think Google should take a responsible role of dictating developer standards and amount of crapware as its "branding" is associated with the misguided bloatware carriers and handset manufactures put on these devices. One of the reasons why Apple doesn't let anyone touch the iOS, it knows AT&T if it could, would screw it up. I think some customizations should be allowed but the way the eco system has gone, it's got way out of hand and caused the Androids as a whole to suffer due to association.

    "Just because you can do something doesn't always mean you should".

    Quality is what's going to be the next trend BTW and motivator for the consumer, not because it has a enough junk on something to make it unusable, especially in charging $300+ a 2 yr contract. People are getting smarter about buying decisions and considering the economy decline last year, people are going to be less likely to shell out for something sub-par for $200 and 2yr contract. And if the Android eco system is going to survive, things like this need to change and its been noticed by Google.
  • Don't blame them

    Google's put a lot of money into Android. The OEMs have given nothing back. The Android project is not operating as a true open source collaboration: where everyone contributes. Instead, Google contributes all the code and the OEMs just take it, returning nothing to the code base. Trouble is, far eastern manufacturers have no real concept of open source, or free collaboration. Giving stuff away is not part of their culture. They'll happily take stuff though! Google should charge licensing fees, it would at least help the trade deficit!
    The Star King
    • but then OEMs would quit buying it

      @The Star King
      [i]Google should charge licensing fees[/i]
      If they do that OEMs go for something else.
      Will Farrell