Sunday, August 23, 2015

Google’s iron grip on Android: Controlling open source by any means necessary

Google’s iron grip on Android: Controlling open source by any means necessary
Android is open—except for all the good parts.

Google has always given itself some protection against alternative versions of Android. What many people think of as "Android" actually falls into two categories: the open parts from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which are the foundation of Android, and the closed source parts, which are all the Google-branded apps. While Google will never go the entire way and completely close Android, the company seems to be doing everything it can to give itself leverage over the existing open source project. And the company's main method here is to bring more and more apps under the closed source "Google" umbrella.

Every so often, I read articles or blog comments about how Android is superior to iOS because Google is "open" and Apple is "closed" and how Apple's "walled garden" is evil, but Google is good because Android is open source.

Not really. As this Ars Technica article from 2013 points out, it's not really true. While the core OS is open source, all of the stuff customers care about are not part of the OS - they're part of closed-source apps that can only be downloaded via the Google Play store. And any manufacturer that uses a custom fork of Android, for any reason, is summarily declared "incompatible" and is banned from the Play Store - meaning their customers will have no access to the apps and features that Android customers worldwide are demanding.

Is this pseudo-openness really any better than Apple's ecosystem, where Apple controls everything and there is no attempt to hide this fact?

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