Over the past three years, Google's Android operating system has grabbed a major share of the global smartphone market. But there's more than one flavor of Android out there, and Google is increasingly finding one flavor being pitted against the other.
In one corner is the truly open-source Android, which falls under the purview of Google's Android Open Source Project (AOSP). When Google launched the project in November 2007, it had no foothold in the emerging smartphone market, so anything it could do to give its position a jumpstart against the likes of Apple, Windows and Symbian made sense.
In the other corner is Android One, the initiative launched by Google last month that takes aim at the 5 billion-plus people in the world who still don't have smartphones. Unlike with the open-source Android, Android One is controlled by Google, which will automatically provide users with updates, security patches and other fixes as they become available. Google says Android One offers adopters the advantage of reduced costs for customization and testing, which will help manufacturers produce smartphones that are more affordable to those in developing economies. What Android One isn't, though, is open source.
This is hardly the first time Google has attempted to keep a tighter grip on Android since unleashing the open-source version on the world seven years ago. Android OS followers such as Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo have described the company's approach as "closed-source creep."
"When Android had no market share, Google was comfortable keeping just these apps and building the rest of Android as an open source project," Amadeo wrote late last year in an article titled, "Google's iron grip on Android: Controlling open source by any means necessary." "Since Android has become a mobile powerhouse though, Google has decided it needs more control over the public source code."
As Amadeo noted, the rise of Android as an OS was accompanied by some users taking the best of Android without any of Google's add-ons. Amazon, for example, adopted AOSP for its Kindle Fire but created its own apps and services to go on top of it. China, too, "skips the Google part of Android," he wrote.
"Most Google services are banned, so the only option there is an alternate version," Amadeo wrote. "In both of these cases, Google's Android code is used, and it gets nothing for it."
Android Version of 'Spy vs. Spy'?
The release of Android One would appear to be Google's next attempt to ensure it gets something more than "nothing" from companies that adopt the Android OS, which today enjoys an 85-percent share of the world smartphone OS market, according to industry research firm IDC.
With Android One, Google is offering to remove several barriers that tend to increase the price of smartphones. By sharing reference designs and "select components" with its Android One partners, Google says it will enable manufacturers to build phones that are more affordable for emerging markets. And by offering automatic software updates, it will remove partners' security headaches too, it says.
A third enticement of Android One is that partners using Airtel SIM cards will be able to access free software updates for six months and download up to 200 MB of Google Play apps each month without those downloads being counted as mobile data usage.
The Android One offer, writes Forbes contributor Ewan Spence, aims to "stem the flow of handset manufacturers in China and India rolling their own flavors of Android from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). Every manufacturer switching to Android One will benefit Google's bottom line and tighten its grip on the so-called open ecosystem."
Such new offers won't kill Google AOSP, but they could over time impose many small cuts that leave the open-source option increasingly less attractive. It will be interesting to see how this Android-vs-Android battle plays out over time.
Posted: 2014-10-07 @ 3:52am PT
I have high hopes with Android One. Google is opening new doors for possibility. I am super excited.
Posted: 2014-10-05 @ 8:00am PT
On the good side of Android One:
* Less crappy phones with no updates.
* Users of those phones will get security updates.
* More of those users, if they decide to update to a high end phone, will choose to stay with Android as their experience was good (and that would benefit other Android OEMs)
* Cheaper/standardized components for manufacturers, simplifying their product cycles.
* Google experience widespread (the Google experience is usually praised by android fans so at least is good as a reference point)
On the bad side of Android One:
* The **possibility** that Google has an evil plan to control AOSP and with time, "impose many small cuts that leave the open source option increasingly less atractive".
I think that the advantages fully outweight the disadvantages here. Google has not stopped releasing code in AOSP. Their only important policy change has been making as many apps, previously built-in, available on the Play Store, which is a great change for users.
I see Amazon and Cyanogen making news with their very alive AOSP forks.
Also, there is no single Android user that cares about open source. The open-source-ness factor is only important for developers and manufacturers. In this case, there is no change for developers, and the manufacturer that is threatened by Android One was doing a crappy job on that market segment already, probably because of the low margins.