How long will OEM tails wag the Google Android dog?

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

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  • Um, regular people are NOT angry

    because regular people won't mod their boot routines.

    Can we please stop with this idiotic idea that geeks are regular people, already.
    • I actually agree with that


      Even though I know a few "regular" people who have modded their Android phones, most people just want a phone that does not NEED modding. I think the question that needs asking is whether a regular person NEEDS to mod a DroidX to get anything they might want out of it. If that answer is no, then the question as to whether it can be done is moot.

      And another thing: It's not as if one case of an OEM preventing a mod defines a trend. HTC openly encourages it (they have a web site for that dedicated purpose), and all they want in return is to be compensated for their own software or ask that it not be used in the mods (which is a reasonable request).
      Michael Kelly
      • Geekdom blogs are full of sound and fury ...

        Yah, the blogosphere tends to represent a sub-culture that has a unique perspective on things. Editorial standards of objectivity and perspective need not apply.

        Sony closing the PS3 to mods, similar issue, similar dynamic in the blogosphere.
      • RE: How long will OEM tails wag the Google Android dog?

        @Michael Kelly Features and policies by both operators and manufacturers are all factored into buying decisions. I think Motorola has shot itself in the foot, but iPhone fans will disagree.
      • eFuse? - - This is worse...

        ...than Apple deleting unauthorized apps from the iPhone and goes against the principles behind Open Source.<br><br>No Droid X for me. I'd consider another unfettered Droid, however...
        ahh so
      • RE: How long will OEM tails wag the Google Android dog?

        @Michael Kelly not so sure that is accurate. I have two friends that were looking at my company iPhone at a soccer game. They were looking into and waiting for the afore mentioned droid to come out. They had already heard there were "issues" and were not sure if they wanted more issues with a - get this - a "Google phone". So while not wide spread - these are two "regular" people... and they already knew.
      • RE: How long will OEM tails wag the Google Android dog?

        OEM tails wag the<a href=""><font color="light&amp;height"> about it</font></a> is bank that <a href=""><font color="light&amp;height">website</font></a> attacked from the <a href=""><font color="light&amp;height">site support</font></a> from any soldier <a href=""><font color="light&amp;height">site</font></a> to the light <a href=""><font color="light&amp;height">home page</font></a> is great Google
    • RE: How long will OEM tails wag the Google Android dog?

      @frgough Regular people are not sheep as you suppose. Markets decide where to go based on real information, and Motorola is driving them away by acting in the opposite way of Google, which people think they're buying into when they get a DroidX.
    • RE: How long will OEM tails wag the Google Android dog?

      "Can we please stop with this idiotic idea that geeks are regular people, already."

      Hehehehe. Thumbs up, buddy. You made me laugh heartily ...
  • Good article

    I like this kind of information, as long as it isn't trying to get someone to regulate the way the software is used.

    The beauty of Android is that everyone can modify it, including the OEMs. If they do something most people don't like, holy smoke, there are alternatives. Isn't that beautiful?!?!???? I love competition.
  • I don't think the choice of alternatives exists in the Motorola example

    You can install a variety of Linux distros, different Window managers etc. on a PC. Heck you can even install a paid copy of Windows.

    However, once you commit to a phone, you cannot switch between different Android implementations without modding involved.

    If choice of alternatives involve replacing the phone, I cannot really call that an "alternative".
  • Pretty sure the problem is Verizon

    Verizon wants to charge you for all the fun things that a custom ROM can give you for free so they gave the stinkeye to Moto and Moto responded with this. People want open, google wants open, OEM's with a drop of common sense want open, wireless carriers want closed. Verizon CEO wakes up at night screaming "DUMB PIPES! NOOOO DON'T WANNA BE DUMB PIPES!!" This way they can charge you for tethering and other things that actually cost them nothing, should be two charges, voice, and data, verizon wants to expand that as far as the consumers will allow(technically there should only be one, data, but I'm not that optimistic). Charging for tethering is the biggest ripoff since text messages.
    User 13
    • RE: How long will OEM tails wag the Google Android dog?

      @User 13 I totally agree, Verizon is infamous for crippling hardware to better extract money from their customers. I remember the same nonsense with disabling GPS receivers on BB, forcing you to pay a monthly fee for the useless VZ-Navigator app just to use YOUR phones GPS receiver with Google maps. Data tethering follows the same path. I'm curious to see how they will remove/cripple this built-in feature from Android 2.2 (Froyo).
    • Noooo say it isnt so....

      @User 13
      "Verizon wants to charge you for all the fun things that a custom ROM can give you for free " No ONLY AT&T is bad. Everyone else
  • This article is already out of date.

    Moto has already laid to rest the "bricking" rumor.

    That being said, people can buy an Android phone from any number of more respectable suppliers.
    • RE: How long will OEM tails wag the Google Android dog?

      Also, there's a big difference between developing applications for Android (which is what AppInventor makes easier, and is not restricted on the Droid X), and loading new Android OS based firmware on the phone (which is what Moto is trying to prevent). Moto's only trying to secure the OS Boot Firmware.
  • If it's our hardware, why can't we do what we want?

    I can understand Motorola's concern. Someone takes their shiny new phone and overclocks the processor, causing heat issues and potentially "bricking" it. I would think that there would be a way to make everyone happy by letting people who mod their phones just waive their warranty rights. Think about this, you buy a brand new Toyota and decide to drop a small block Chevy in it. It's yours, you have every right to do that, just forget about getting any warranty repairs. I paid for the hardware, let me have the choice of screwing it up!
    • That's right

      @dmeguy The difference is that you can drop the 350 motor in a Toyota. On the motorola you can't get the locked hood open to work on it. Motorola says tough and to buy a developer phone. Guess what, there isn't one on Verizon. In addition, if you root the Nexus One you knowingly void the warranty. Key word knowingly. I would accept the same from Moto. Just provide an unlock that voids the warranty. I paid for the phone. Everyone pays for the phone in full. Some agree to make payments over time to the carrier but just look at the sales tax amount you paid. It was on the full value of the phone.

      To the other poster, HTC does not condone modding either. XDA-dev, if that is what he is referring to, is not endorsed by HTC. HTC's recent NAND locking is a perfect example that they are in the same boat as Moto.
  • Motorola's

    About time someone mentioned this, Im experiencing this with the Cliq. <br>Expecting to get an open Android phone where I could move to the latest ROM of the OS as Im experiencing with my HTC G1 that I bought 2yrs ago. Instead I come to find that I'm stuck with 1.5 and some "patches" ever since release, but yet I'm able to move with a 2yr old phone ahead in Android builds then my new phone???<br>Now please tell me there's something wrong here...a company successfully gets away with making a Mobile OS that's reputation is built on being open yet the OEM screws it up for profit and Google hasnt said anything? <br>Its obvious, they don't want you to upgrade past 1.6 so that you cant use Google Map's Nav feature, and you are crippled into using the "Tele-Nav" service that's on the phone. An obvious collusion between Motorola and Tele-Nav in order to have you pay for something that's free with the latest Android build.<br>This is also due to the Moto-Blur service which is crap since day one Ive found. I get Twitter updates weeks later, email hours later (gmail linked), and even some text messages hours later. Im not sure about the texts but everything thats socially linked in MotoBlur is slow as a snail in the middle of summer. On the other hand, official apps that you use in just about every other Android you get quicker and timely updates.<br>To top it off, Motorola has been stating an upgrade is on its way.they have been saying this since first quarter, yet no results, instead its customers are stuck with a buggy version of the OS thats known for memory leaks and various other problems.<br>
    Ultimately Im hoping Motorola fries from the negative feedback of e-fuse and find a lawsuit coming since they have no business closing an open OS to suit their needs.....its not about making a phone for Joe Public....its a cop out and a PR excuse, so don't believe the hype.
    • RE: How long will OEM tails wag the Google Android dog?

      @spdrcrtob As a side note, someone evidently reported this as spam ...must be some Motorola exec that doesn't want the word to get out about what they are really doing!