Friday, September 10, 2010

Android = Open. It Doesn't Matter What Some Carriers Choose to Do With It.

A recent TechCrunch article written by the infamous MG Seigler entitled Android Is As Open As The Clenched Fist I’d Like To Punch The Carriers With, argued that Android is indeed a closed system because the carriers and handset makers that implement Android load their own custom skins, lock the phones, and put unremoveable crapware on the devices.  This of course sparked huge controversy and we're now seeing (at the time of this writing) about a 1,000 comments on the thread, the most I personally have ever seen on TechCrunch.

A reply that I posted to a retweet of the post on Facebook ensued a rather good bit of argument with a co-worker Caleb Davenport, that I'd like to share here.

Here's the thread:

Caleb Davenport openness is an illusion #android #iphone
My Reply:
Carlton Northern Are you serious? You honestly believe that android is a closed system? If that is the case, could you please define what an open system is?
His Response:
Caleb Davenport
that's not what the article said at all. it said that the android os being open source does not make it an open platform for the consumer. in fact, it can never be open for the consumer because google is letting carriers run the platform. so, according to the article, the fact that it's open (to the carriers) means that they can install "crapware", block google's own app store, restrict from out-of-store installations which makes it closed (or at least less open) to the consumer.
if it's open:
why can't you install skype off of verizon?
why can't you install bing off of verizon?
why can't you uninstall the trial apps that come with it?
why are only 4% of phones running the latest software?
why can't i install apps external to the app store on all android devices?
My Reply:
Carlton Northern 
Oh Caleb Caleb Caleb.. Why do you do this to me. I know what the article said and the article is wrong. And my questions to you still stand because you said in your post "openess is an illusion" referring to the Android platform.
Let me say it again, you can't both have a system that is open while still maintaining control! The two are mutually exclusive. By creating an open system, the creator itself loses all control at the point of distribution. As long as the carriers and handset makers comply with the open source license of Android, they can do whatever they want with it, including locking the phones and putting unremoveable crapware on them. Google can't control that. But it doesn't mean that the platform isn't open. It just means that there are a few bad eggs in the bunch.
Let me also argue your point that its not open to the consumers. You're wrong. If there were one Android phone, let's call it the aPhone, that only ran on one US carrier, that would be a closed system. However, there are like 70 Android phones that run on all the major carriers in the US and many more throughout the world. Many of these phones run vanilla android without any crapware. Many of these phones are also unlocked, or if they aren't unlocked they can be unlocked very easily, or they can be purchased unlocked on eBay. Furthermore, Android complies with software and hardware standards that are open. Things like 3.5mm headphone jacks, microUSB, Adobe Flash, the ability to run Java, C, C++, and other scripting languages on the phone, etc.
Lastly, the answer to all of your "if its open" questions is, precisely, "because it is an open system". Because it is open, Verizon can do whatever the hell they want to with it, Google has no control over Verizon like Apple has over AT&T. Their is fragmentation of versions precisely because it is an open system and carriers have the choice to upgrade or not. But let me also point out that those figures are more than a month old. There has been a massive amount of upgrades since then. Furthermore, many of the phones in the 35% not on Android 2.x are because they were first generation phones and they can't support the newer 2.x operating system.