Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

Summary: Who is to blame for the fragmentation of the Android operating system? Google? The OEMs?

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Now that I have your attention, I'd like to shed some light on what inspired this tirade I am about to display. Recently I purchased a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Android tablet. Regular readers will remember that I previously owned a Motorola Xoom tablet, which I have since passed on to Jason Perlow.

I love the hardware on the Galaxy Tab. It's thin, it's light, it's comfortable to hold. The display is sharp and bright, and the battery life is excellent. The power adapter uses a proprietary connector, but at least that connector goes into a fairly standard 5 volt, 2 amp USB brick that can be used to charge pretty much any device that gets its juice through a USB cable.

On July 12, however, my love of all things Samsung came crashing down upon me as I suddenly discovered that my shiny new tablet was misbehaving--badly.

The highly touted bookmark sync between the desktop Chrome browser and Android 3.x Honeycomb tablets had stopped working. It was causing the automated background synchronization process between the tablet and all Google services to crash.

It turns out that at some point Google started making some changes to the backend systems that handle Google's user account data. There's nothing wrong with them doing this; it happens all the time. In fact, no other Android 3.1 tablets had any issues at all with the changes, and their bookmark sync continued to work without a blip on the radar.

Not Samsung, however. I've discussed the issue with a number of people, including Howard Burgess, author of the ChromeMarks for Android app. Howard tells me that his app stopped being able to sync with Google on July 12, requiring him to make an emergency update to his app. Apparently the ability to push the bookmarks from his app into the Samsung browser has always been problematical even though it works fine on other devices.

I also discovered that the PhoneMarks app, which provides similar functionality, is also having issues operating properly on Samsung devices. When I tried to run it on my tablet, the app would continually crash as it tried to access the Google data backend.

So what does this mean? Well, I did some digging around the internet, and it's become somewhat well-known amongst Android developers that Samsung actually modifies core source code in the Android operating system that handles communicating with Google's backend data services.

Say WHAT?

Yes, that is correct. Just head over to the XDA Developers forum and search for yourself. There are people complaining about modifications to the browser, the backend communications issues, and more.

What really bothers me about this is that while it is important for OEMs to make sure the software functions properly with the hardware, Samsung is changing code they should not be touching at all. What made their developers think they know better than Google what goes on with their backend services? Samsung can't even get their own OTA update services for their devices working properly; they shouldn't be messing with the core communication software that connects to a service they have no access to whatsoever.

It's not just Samsung doing this, although currently they seem to be the worst offender. Motorola and HTC respectively put out heavily modified kernels for Android that include their Motoblur and SenseUI interfaces. Samsung does the same with TouchWiz. Some people love these custom launcher/skinned interfaces for their phones and tablets. I even tried the leaked TouchWiz 4 interface from Samsung for my tablet.

Then again, some people don't love them. Most of the time they add an extra layer of apps that are pre-loaded into memory, causing an unnecessary burden on the CPU and decreasing battery life. I liked the TouchWiz widgets, but didn't like the modification of the browser. I was annoyed by its tendency to load apps I didn't use into memory, and couldn't even block from loading. Also, over time, my tablet became more and more unstable the longer the TouchWiz interface was running.

Here's the thing: When I was running the Motorola Xoom tablet, I had none of these problems. Why? Because it's Google's flagship tablet device. As such, they are not allowed to modify the operating system in any way. It has to be plain vanilla Android. As such, it was quite stable when I used it--after the Honeycomb 3.1 update, of course.

Non-flagship devices are not limited by this restriction, which means the OEMs can do whatever they want to them. And that results in the issues I experienced with my tablet. I should point out that I was finally able to sync my bookmarks to my tablet, but I have to do it manually. If I keep the automated bookmark sync option enabled in my tablet settings, it will crash the sync process every single time it runs.

So who's at fault here? I'm inclined to just swing wildly and include everyone involved. Samsung modified core operating system functionality when they should have left well enough along. Google didn't stop any of the OEMs from fiddling with things that should have been outside their permission to mess with.

Also, Google hasn't released the Honeycomb source code--I would love to see the folks from CyanogenMod get a hold of it so they could release a stable, vanilla firmware for all tablets. Samsung provides a website where developers can test their code, but their website is broken so you can't create a new account to test your code.

At this point I am in total agreement with Jason in that these devices need to have a low-level hypervisor that interfaces between disparate OEM hardware and a standardized version of Android. Stop letting the OEMs make decisions about the operating system.

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Microsoft lets OEMs put a bunch of unnecessary apps onto new systems being sold, but they don't let the OEMs modify the core operating system. I would like to see Google take back control from the OEMs. Lock down the core operating system and let them just stick branded widgets and launchers on top, rather than integrating their buggy code directly into the OS.

Yes, Android is ostensibly supposed to be open source, but that should not be an open license to muck about with the inner workings of the operating system when the OEM devs haven't a clue as to what they're doing.

Finally, Google and the OEMs need to start learning what the phrase "factory reset" really means. I performed a factory reset of the Xoom in the tablet settings before I sent it to Jason. When he got it, it still had all of my movies, documents and ebooks still loaded on it. Turns out that factory reset doesn't include the /sdcard/ directory, even though it's internal storage on tablets like the Xoom and the Galaxy Tab.

Reminder, folks: if you're going to sell your Android tablet, or return it, or need to have a warranty replacement, you better make sure that your data is actually gone. Get an app like ES File Explorer and delete every last file in the /sdcard/ directory before performing that factory reset. Because you never know who will end up with your private documents and data if you didn't make sure it was gone.

Also See:

Topics: Operating Systems, Google, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Samsung, Tablets

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75 comments
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  • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

    I'm so glad I went with an Apple iPhone and iPad. When I read stories like yours, I have to shake my head and laugh. My stuff from Apple just works. I will never experience what you're going through. The life of ABA people, a penny wise and a pound foolish.
    gtdworak
    • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

      @gtdworak
      Same for me :-) Very happy Windows Phone 7 User. My Phone just works!
      brhorv
      • Except for all the apps you're missing

        Doh!
        @brhorv
        GoPower
      • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

        @brhorv Yeah, my WP7 running the Mango build is Rocking!!
        jatbains
    • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

      @gtdworak
      BS! you people can't appreciate the beauty and innovation of open source.
      Stop whining and man up!
      Linux Geek
      • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

        @Linux Geek AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!

        Face facts either the OEMs or Google has screwed up Android... and I put the blame on Google because they spearheaded the Android initiative and are the source of Android. So man up and quit whining that not everyone likes Android.
        athynz
      • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

        @Linux Geek <br>Whats wrong with you? You are an extreme right and support extreme left philosophy.
        Ram U
      • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

        @Linux Geek I can appreciate the fact that 99% of every open source software I've ever used has sucked a$$.
        JoeHTH
      • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

        @Linux Geek Meego is true open souce. Android is for people who don't know what open source is and believe the hype of large organizations.<br>I hope the OEM's start releasing more Meego devices soon.
        Just to be clear, Android is open source in theory but not in practice. The fact that there are too many limitations placed on the use of Android and that Hineycomb isn't even released yet is testimony enough.
        global.philosopher
      • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

        @Linux Geek

        It must really hurt that there's more open source on Windows now than will ever exist on Linux ;-)

        However to the main question

        Android broke Linux and iOS broke Unix, but thankfully they could re-use the old OSs, otherwise they would have had to write one themselves.
        tonymcs1
    • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

      @gtdworak
      Own both and both have issues.
      Apple constrains up front.
      Android has it open and an OEM can constrain it.

      Let's call it like it is and not paint a mask on it.

      :O
      rhonin
    • That was not my recent experience with Apple

      @gtdworak

      My recently purchased Verizon iPhone could not be upgraded from my iPhone 3GS it was replacing. It didn't just work. It turned out the iPhone 3GS was running 4.3 and Verizon iPhone 4 only runs 4.2 and they are not compatible from 4.3 to 4.2.

      Apple FAIL
      rlawler
      • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

        @rlawler At first I though you were simply misinformed but now I see that you are one of those ABAers who claim to have bought an iPhone and are making up lies and FUD. Come on, the VZW iPhone is quite compatible with iOS 4.3x.

        IF you are really having issues then sync the iPhone 3GS with iTunes, then plug in the VZW iPhone 4, click on the update button and your ViPhone will - excuse the bad buzzword here - "magically" update to iOS 4.3. THEN you can sync your backup of your iPhone 3GS with your VZW iPhone and there ya go.

        Not an Apple fail but a rlawler FAIL.
        athynz
      • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

        @rlawler
        you dont know what you are talking about, the verizon iphone is 4.2.8 its a diff os for the cdma iphone.
        the att is 4.3.3 for the gsm iphone.
        the only diff bet the 2 is the fact that they have different radios in them.
        the old ios was 4.2.2 which neither have
        rocketboy5114
    • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

      some people seems to be happy living in jail (physical or virtual) where they are told what, how and when to do thing. <br>I for one cherish my freedom to change things as I please and sometimes to get screw up until things are fix.
      CyberCitizen
      • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

        @CyberCitizen
        i dont understand something? you dont need to get android to tinker, you can get iphone and jailbreak it. so now you have the just works of apple, and the tinkering of android on your iphone!
        rocketboy5114
  • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

    Err... Don't you want it both ways? You want the iron fist "don't touch that!" of Apple's iOS, but you want the hearts and flowers of "open".

    Well I don't see how you reconcile the two. You either get something "locked down for your protection" - which I think you're starting to see isn't just nonsense, there is actually a good argument in favour.

    Or you get "look it might work" wild western frontier of Android. Yes, you can install all manor of stuff that'll upset everyone from your cell operator to your congressman. BUT there is no assurance that it'll work, and continue to work or that none of this software won't upset you.

    The question is: "do you want that risk?" If the answer is "yes", well fine. You might find your new device is locked down in all kinds of ways you'd not imagined, or doesn't work quite as well as you'd hoped - but you might find it'll break WiFi encryption keys, of play movies without any regard for ownership or legality. But don't think there isn't a risk.

    If the answer is "No", well Apple have an iPad for you, they will impose strict limits on what you can and can't do with it - but they'll also make sure it works, and doesn't do anything to upset your cell-operator, your congressman or indeed you.

    That's the choice.
    jeremychappell
    • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

      @jeremychappell Thank you for saying something sensible.
      Rinias
    • RE: Breaking Android: Who is worse, Google or the OEMs?

      @jeremychappell
      I agree but in some areas the Apple model feels a bit much. I run my iPad2 and ASUS side by side and the iPad does come across as constrained :(
      rhonin
    • Well said, Jeremy.

      Guess that "walled garden" ain't all bad, eh?
      Userama