Google demands veto on OEM Android changes, stretches definition of 'open source'

Posted Mar 31st 2011 7:26AM by Sebastian Anthony

Google, according to reports from "a dozen executives working at key companies in the Android ecosystem" is finally locking down the open source and easily-fragmented Android operating system.

As it currently stands, Google hands over the 'final' code for each version of Android, and OEMs and developers then spend some time customizing the OS to fit their hardware, and to create a unique and marketable flavor. That's all set to change, however.

Over the last few months, according to several people familiar with the matter, Android licensees such as HTC, Motorola and Facebook, have been asked to sign 'non-fragmentation clauses.' This new contract caveat will give Google the right to review and pass judgment on all changes to the Android OS. Two executives at Facebook say that they're unhappy that Google gets to review its changes to Android -- which is understandable, given Facebook and Google are direct competitors -- and there have also been allegations that Google is preventing some Verizon devices from shipping because they include Microsoft's Bing instead of Google search.
The thing is, licensees could refuse to accept Google's new vice-like grip on its OS, but then they would have to wait for the source code to be released to the Android Open Source Project. At the moment, OEMs get access to the code some weeks or months before its public release, but -- theoretically -- if Motorola signs the new contract, and Samsung refuses, then Samsung could be months behind Motorola in releasing the latest and greatest version of Android on its devices.

At this stage we're not sure whether Google's non-fragmentation clause will affect 'skins' like HTC Sense and Motorola Blur, or if this change is merely targeted at preventing bastardized versions of Android appearing on tablets. In the long run, though, we're probably looking at Google becoming the sole arbiter of Android's look and feel.

There will still be replacement home screen apps and launchers, and custom ROMs, but their release will be dictated by Google's currently-unknown source code release schedule. Don't forget, the latest version of Android, Honeycomb, again because of fragmentation risks, won't have its source released for the foreseeable future. In other words, if you want to compete in the Android ecosystem, you have to grant Google's demand for veto power, or wait for a source code release that may never happen.

Reel them in with the lure of open source and free licensing, reach an astounding and industry-leading 31% market share, and then tighten the screws. Genius, Google; despicably genius.

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