Google needs to take back Android from the OEMs

Google needs to take back Android from the OEMs

Summary: Is Google to blame for the fragmentation of the Android OS and delayed updates, or does the blame lie with the OEMs and the mobile carriers?

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Image courtesy of Android and Me

Image courtesy of Android and Me

It was announced last month in DigiTimes that Google may be launching Android 5.0 in the second quarter of 2012. That's good news, except for one tiny problem. Why hasn't the current version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0, attained widespread distribution yet?

I have been using a (mostly) functional version of Android 4.0 on my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, thanks to the efforts of the CyanogenMod people and the developers over at the XDA forums. Aside from no functional camera or VPN--both due to the lack of working drivers from Samsung--everything else is functioning.

I don't think the OEMs or the carriers are the problem. Ever since smartphones appeared, OS updates have been fragmented, delayed, or flat out ignored unless there was a showstopping bug that needed fixing. OEMs simply aren't in the business of maintaining handset operating systems. They've been forced into the role due to the advancing technology.

Apple recognized this as a problem from day one with the iPhone. They took the decision out of the hands of the OEMs and the mobile carriers, and handled all of the OS updates themselves. Admittedly, that's a lot easier to do when you also control the hardware as well, and only have a few models to deal with.

The solution is to have a virtual layer, much in the same way that virtualized host systems like VMware, Hyper-V and VirtualBox function. They create a standardized layer, and then each operating system sees that as the hardware platform that it will be installed on.

Google wouldn't even be required to create the virtual layer. All they would need to do is provide the OEMs with APIs and hardware specifications and let them build it. They wouldn't have to develop OS-specific drivers, and customers wouldn't be forced to sit on their hands and wait for the OEMs to get around to writing updates.

Google would have complete control of the OS, because every device would be presenting the exact same hardware layer to the operating system. They could put out software updates like clockwork, and they wouldn't be held back by the OEMs and mobile carriers because they didn't want to be bothered spending resources on software updates.

But until that happens, we the customers are stuck watching OEMs release new devices with new operating system updates while they let their previous generation of hardware languish. Don't blame Google for Android fragmentation; blame the OEMs and mobile carriers for having too much control over the operating system and no desire to spend any effort to provide updates.

Topics: Hardware, Google, Operating Systems, Software

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79 comments
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  • They are Distros. GPLv2 Licensing Terms Prevail

    The rule is that any commercial endeavor making changes to the kernel or any GPLv2 licensed source must provide those changes back to the open source community. If they are writing their own Android Apps, then the Android Developer licensing terms apply:

    h t t p : / / w w w . a n d r o i d . c o m / u s / d e v e l o p e r - d i s t r i b u t i o n - a g r e e m e n t . h t m l

    In the case of Google, they have finally completed committing their driver code for Android to kernel.org.

    This has nothing to do with the Distro Android itself which sits on top of the kernel.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • GPLv2 has zero impact on Android

      The only GPLv2 component in Android is the Kernel and userspace tools. Everything that sits on top of that, which includes the Dalvik VM environment (Google's implementation of Java) and all the apps which run in that environment as part of the Android OS is licensed as Apache.

      If an OEM writes device drivers for Android devices that uses binaries that taint the kernel, that is not a violation of GPL2. Vendors have been doing that for years (nVidia, etc)
      jperlow
      • fyi

        http://www.fsf.org/news/android-termination-upgrade-gplv3
        Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
      • not exactly.

        GPLv2 applies to drivers specifically written to the Linux kernel.

        The nVidia drivers are not written for Linux, but for Windows. The shim code that is used to adapt the Linux API to the Windows API (used by the driver) IS GPL.
        jessepollard
  • That toothpaste is out of the tube.

    The problem is that you keep thinking Google is a software company, [b]they're not[/b]! They're an advertising sales company, and you have to look at everything they do through that lens. Google doesn't care if they have they best mobile device operating system, they just want it between as many people and their devices as possible. As long as Google is making money from mobile ads [b]and[/b] acquiring data for "the algorithm" from the devices Google is content with the way Android is going.
    matthew_maurice
    • On top of that

      The carriers and hardware manufactures aren't really software companies either. They just want an OS on their hardware so they can sell it. Update it, who cares?!
      GoPower
      • They should, because in a couple of years people choose new phones again

        Down the road, post-sales user experience do matter ... A LOT. Companies that stand by its users with timely updates is far more likely to retain customers than companies that don't.
        CyberGuerilla
      • very true, plus

        to the hardware types, upgrades cause problems. My tablet just upgraded from Android 2.3 to Honeycomb 3.2. Does it work better? well, sort of, maybe not.

        It looks better, it seems to have better screen drivers, text and stuff like that but now it locks more often, the browser is different, locks from time to time, going to sleep causes many more problems than before, etc. etc. etc.

        If I were running a hardware company with a device which has a supported life span of no more than three years, I'd leave the blasted thing alone. Less updating means lower support costs.

        If the customer feels strongly, they can pay to upgrade. 90% to 98% don't even know what Android is, so who cares if they get an upgrade.

        No upgrades = simpler, cheaper, fewer problems, happier customers in the long run.
        Cynical99
      • Google is not ONLY an advertising sales company!

        So, where then did the software come from?

        If Google writes software, they write software. Just because revenue does not come from Android directly does not mean Google is not in the practice of writing software! Google writes Android. Google also is driving programming language practices for web development (DART) (i.e. web "software," if you will). To discount Google's impact as a software producer by saying they're not a software company is to say Android doesn't even exist! NEWSFLASH!: WHEN AN ADVERSTISING SALES COMPANY CREATES THE SOFTWARE THAT DRIVES TRAFFIC TO GENERATE MORE OF ITS MAIN REVENUE, IT IS ALSO A SOFTWARE COMPANY! Google should support said software and book the cost of developing it as COGS (Play Store sales share, search and ad impressions being the revenue making targets), otherwise, without software support, users will leave for competitors and could find alternatives to Google's web-based services that are at least accessible on iPhones or Windows Phones. Half the people I know that carry iPhones have deliberately chosen to either set the search agent in their phone to Bing or have installed the Bing app. Their reasoning for choosing a seemingly inferior search service is, "It isn't Google." Not surprisingly, that's also their reason for not going Android and for not creating Google/Gmail accounts.
        theNewDanger
    • Yes...but

      Yes, but that is not necessarily a sustainable model for Google (and Android) in the long run.
      crystalsoldier
    • it is all because of how third world manufacturing goes

      All those asian manufacturers have simple logic:

      1. Steal the design from somewhere;
      2. Build a factory according to the design;
      3. Manufacture few million pieces of that particular electronic junk, usually until the factory wears out;
      4. Sell the junk to whomever wants it, at whatever price goes;
      5. Go to 1.

      Software? Support? From vendors producing things that they have no clue of? In some other world, might be.
      danbi
  • I don't understand the problem

    [quote] " OS updates have been fragmented, delayed, or flat out ignored unless there was a showstopping bug that needed fixing" [/quote]

    Unless there's a "showstopping bug", why would i want an update anyway? I had an iphone 3gs and updated it to iOS 4 when iphone 4 came out. Performance went out the window. my new motto : " Don't fix it if it ain't broken "
    Jean-Pierre-
    • And Apple fixed that issue quickly.....Hence the difference:)

      Just saying

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • Not really...

        With every new release of iOS, the 3GS gets slower and slower. I've given up upgrading my 3GS and most of the people I know who are still on a 3GS moan that it is so slow and wish they hadn't updated.

        Most are waiting to see what the iPhone "5" brings, as they don't like the iPhone 4/4s. They don't like the squared casing and all glass and metal finish, it is too "square" and doesn't sit comfortably in the hand. They'd rather suffer failing batteries and a sluggish OS than upgrade... :-S
        wright_is
      • @wrigt_is

        Yes really. I had an iPhone 3G when iOS 4 came out and yes that first incarnation was slow on it - Apple fixed it within a month and every update I hit it with (until I sold it after replacing it with an iPhone 4) ran smoothly and fast. Even when I jailbroke it and ran some processor intensive programs it ran as fast as it did when I had iOS 3x on it.

        [b]Most are waiting to see what the iPhone "5" brings, as they don't like the iPhone 4/4s. They don't like the squared casing and all glass and metal finish, it is too "square" and doesn't sit comfortably in the hand. They'd rather suffer failing batteries and a sluggish OS than upgrade...[/b]

        Where is your data on this? Let's talk iPhone 4 - it had a 3% return rate at the height of that overblown "antennagate" issue meaning it had a 97% satisfaction rate - the best satisfaction rate of any previously released iPhone. And it gave VZW it's best first day sales ever - after it had been out 6 months with AT&T. Not too shabby for a phone people didn't like according to you...
        athynz
      • @Pete

        My 3GS and the others here at work are all sluggish - it is to be expected, iOS5 is much more complex than iOS 3 which they came with; but it is still frustrating.

        3% return, 97% satisfaction, yes, fine... From the people who upgraded. I am talking about people who qualify for an upgrade, have looked at Android and WP7 and don't like them and want a new iPhone. They have tried an iPhone 4/4S in the shops and don't like the way it feels, so they are waiting for the next release and hoping for a redesign.

        Those people don't turn up in the returns or satisfaction figures, because they have looked at the phone, tried it in shops or used friends' iPhone 4s and don't like them. I can't tell you how many fall into this category, whether it is 100s, 1000s or millions of people, I do know a majority of my friends who are still on the 3GS are waiting for the "5" to come out, before they upgrade, in the hope it will have a redesigned case. And it also has nothing to do with "antennagate", just that they don't find the squared off form factor fits nicely in the hand.
        wright_is
  • Pointless...

    Like it or not, android is a stolen product... nobody can take it back from anybody...google just got lucky fishing in android murky waters... probably they will run out of luck in few years time...
    owllnet
  • OEMs and Carriers ARE the problem, they always will be.

    Actually you've got it exactly backwards, and ironically, you prove it yourself. [i]"Apple recognized this as a problem from day one with the iPhone. They took the decision out of the hands of the OEMs and the mobile carriers, and handled all of the OS updates themselves.[/i]" Apple never let the OEMs do anything but build the devices, and once the iPhone proved to be a winner AT&T didn't have the juice to do much other than make a few half-assed demands on usage levels and contract terms.

    As I've said before, Google was, and still is, all about getting Android handsets into as many hands as possible, and to do so they had to basically "give away the store" to the carriers and OEMs. Even the "pure Android" Nexus models are now showing the interference of OEMs and carriers.
    matthew_maurice
    • Huh?

      "Apple never let the OEMs do anything but build the devices"

      say what?
      bobjones2007
    • The Google way

      Yep, this is what Google wants: the spyware on as many mobile devices as possible. What happens with the vendors or the users.. who cares? Certainly not Google, as long as the bait is out there and stupid fish (users, vendors) bite.
      danbi