Is Apple Causing Google’s Android to “Think Different”?
Since the beginning of the Android operating system’s development, one of the cornerstones of the movement has been the fact that the OS has remained open source in nature. What this means is that interested developers and hardware manufacturers have had direct, free access to the source code of the OS, enabling them to custom tailor it to their needs. With the Release of Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), Google has so far decided not to release the source code, in a move that is sure to provoke irritation for vendors and developers worldwide.
Google has stated that it doesn’t have a timeframe yet for releasing the Android 3.0 source, because they have developed it specifically for the tablet market. At this point, they appear to be concerned that the tablet-specific features they’ve integrated wouldn’t translate well to mobile phones, leading to a bad user experience on such devices. By taking this position, Google may have concluded that the closed nature of their biggest competitor, Apple’s iOS, is forcing them to retain tighter control over where and how their software is used.
It’s understandable that the fierce competition in the tablet and handheld OS race is beginning to give Google a sense that they must assert greater control, or run the risk of becoming an also ran. The counter argument is that device manufacturers have just as much to lose by releasing mobile devices with a badly integrated version of Android 3.0, and would probably not be likely to allow such mistakes to happen.
The giant advantage that Apple has developed in the mobile computing space is that it has absolute control over its platform, leading to a nearly identical user experience across all Apple devices. While Google can’t possibly achieve such uniformity for Android, due to the enormous list of devices and manufacturers using it, they are appearing to be hesitant to waste the opportunity that the Android 3.0 system presents.
The enormous downside to this latest twist of events is that Google may be effectively stifling the growth of their own OS, along with that of their manufacturing partners, at a time when the race is Apple’s to lose. So far, there have been few Android devices that have drawn complaints, and the very openness of the platform has been the biggest engine in its development. Google would be wise to trust the judgment of the very developers and manufacturers that have pushed Android to the top of a market that seemed almost impenetrable only a few short years ago.