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Google lowering boom on vendors over Android fragmentation, reports say

Mar 31, 2011 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive
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Google is talking to ARM about the possibility of standardizing both Android 3.x and ARM processors to offer a more consistent experience, says an industry report. Meanwhile, another report says Android device vendors have complained to the U.S. Justice Department over Google's increasingly heavy-handed pressure discouraging UI customizations of Android.

Over the last year, the Android community has argued that Google has not maintained sufficient control over its mobile platform, resulting in growing fragmentation. But paradoxically, many of the same observers have complained that Google's increasingly heavy-handed control over Android is inconsistent with the platform's open source licensing and spirit.

Now, Google is stepping up its pressure on tablet vendors to standardize the Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb") experience, according to separate reports by Digitimes and Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The Digitimes story does not go into details on Google's "push for standardization" of Android 3.0 except to say that the company is considering negotiations with ARM to help standardize certain aspects of processors that are frequently used on Android tablets.

The precise design changes that Google might ask of ARM are a bit unclear, but the publication suggests that for its part Google hopes to provide a standardized Android spec to ARM that the company could anticipate in designing its ARM architectures.

The negotiations "should significantly improve ARM architecture's major drawback of having difficulty upgrading, while can significantly reduce the development time of downstream partners as well as maintain quality," explains Digitimes

The tip is said to have come from "notebook players," which, considering the publication's Taiwanese focus, likely include Asus, Acer, or other Taiwanese hardware vendors getting into the tablet market. Both Asus and Acer have announced Android tablets, and earlier this week, Asus began accepting pre-orders in Taiwan for its Honeycomb-based, 10.1-inch Eee Pad Transformer tablet (pictured), which plugs into an optional keyboard docking station.

A Slashgear story on the Digitimes tip, meanwhile, reports that Asus execs told the publication this week that Google had been displeased with the "custom battery-level wallpaper" Asus used on the Transformer tablet, accusing the company of having modified the core code to develop it.

Of course, the whole point of open source software is said to be that hardware and software vendors can modify the core code. The downside is possible fragmentation, but the upside is the potential for evolutionary innovation.

Vendors complain to DoJ over Google practices?

In another sign that Google is strong-arming vendors to hew to a "pure Google" implementation of Android and reduce fragmentation, Bloomberg BusinessWeek is reporting that Android licensees have registered complaints with the U.S. Justice Department (DoJ) over Google's business practices regarding Android.

The publication interviewed about a dozen executives working at hardware vendors, including LG, Samsung, Toshiba, and even Facebook, which "has been trying to develop an Android device."

The story did not say which companies had filed the complaints, nor did it offer many specifics about Google's behavior. However, the executives reportedly told the publication that Google informed the vendors it was forbidding any more "willy-nilly tweaks" to Android, and blocking any "partnerships formed outside of Google's purview." 

The search and mobile advertising giant appears to be using its Google apps for Android, such as Google Maps and Google Voice as the carrots to invite compliance.

"Companies hoping to receive early access to Google's most up-to-date software will need approval of their plans" directly from Andy Rubin, says the story, citing its unnamed sources. Rubin is the head of Google's Android group, and was the principal force behind Android's original development.

In addition, says the story, Google has dictated that "chip and device makers that abide by its rules" will be given a "head start in bringing Android products to market."

Google has also increasingly demanded that Android licensees abide by so-called non-fragmentation clauses that give Google final approval of Android code, and in some cases dictate partners for the licensees, says BusinessWeek. Google's Rubin told the publication that these clauses have always been part of the Android license. However, the hardware vendor sources said that Google has recently tightened the policies.

Two unnamed Facebook execs complained about the Google review process, while others told the publication that Google tried to block Verizon's inclusion of Microsoft's Bing search engine on some Android devices, says the story.

Is Google worse than Microsoft?

While some observers, such as Digitimes, have said that Google's increasing heavy-handedness smacks of Microsoft policies, BusinessWeek argues that the comparison is unfair — to Microsoft. The story quotes Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg, as saying that in the PC market, anyway, Redmond has generally treated vendors equally.

"Microsoft often got criticized for treating all partners the same, whether they were doing great work or mediocre work," Gartenberg told the publication. "Google seems to have no problem with playing favorites."

Although not stated clearly in the story, the implication is that much of the pressure from Google is focused on companies developing tablets using Android 3.0. The cited Toshiba, Samsung, and LG, for example are all prepping Honeycomb-based tablets.

An earlier Bloomberg BusinessWeek story published last week quoted Google's Rubin as saying that the company will delay the release of open source code for its tablet-oriented Android 3.0 due to concerns that developers will try to port it to smartphones and other devices prematurely.

Although Rubin suggested that the delay would be temporary, and that the problem was due in part to having released the Honeycomb code too early, open source advocates have cried foul. They argue that this is another sign that Google is backing away from the open source ideals it has always espoused for the Linux-based operating system. 

This was followed by a report from Mobile-Review's Eldar Murtazin, claiming that the Android 3.0 license dictates that if a Google hardware partner releases an Android tablet on Android 2.x, they are not allowed to update Android 2.x tablets to version 3.0.

The story also said that Google was working with LG on a Google-blessed Android 3.x tablet intended as a Xoom-like defacto reference design. The tablet will run a subsequent, improved update to Honeycomb, the story suggests. LG and T-Mobile will soon ship its Honeycomb-based G-Slate tablet (pictured).


This article was originally published on LinuxDevices.com and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit LinuxToday.com for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.



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