When open means closed, it gets confusing

Google owns Android, and everybody else is a second class citizen.

This should be obvious, but Google was able to confuse everyone for a number of years by releasing the source code. This offered the veneer of openness while remaining actually closed. At Onskreen, we saw the implications of this the last couple of years and it all played out behind closed doors. However, recently, Google made a very public move by shutting down Acer’s plan to launch a device based on a modified Android stack (read more here.

Certification has some technical requirements, none of which Cornerstone was in violation of. The real problem was that using Cornerstone gave the device manufacturers a differentiated UI. The goal of that was to offer a superior user experience to users, and thus engender loyalty directly to the device manufacturer as opposed to the brand of mobile OS. This may have not been in violation of Google’s technical requirements, however, it did violate Google’s goals. So they essentially banned it.

The act of coercing our common customers (device manufacturers), I don’t actually have an issue with. The problem is the false veneer of opening the code and then basically ensuring that nobody does anything with it that Google does not approve of. It was a great initial marketing tactic by Google that is now running into its limitations and beginning to cause more problems than helping Android.

I should be clear, I think Android is great. I use an Android device and Onskreen does a ton of business around it. It would just be better served with a transparent governance model from Google. The open, but closed approach does nothing but confuse the ecosystem and reinforce that Google’s ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra is outdated in their fight to the death to own mobile.

[Update 1.18.2013] – Samsung has released a version of multi-tasking on their Galaxy devices, and been certified by Google for those devices. Samsung is the major Android distributor (as of mid last year, they sold almost 50% of all Android devices worldwide with no other manufacturer above 10%), so clearly they had the clout to force Google to certify their multi-tasking implementation. It’s unfortunate that the only way that this could happen was with Samsung’s clout, as opposed to being enabled via the Android certification process that is supposed to level the playing field for Android. The implications for this are severe if you are not Samsung:

  • Me-too devices are a guarantee – Differentiating Android in any meaningful way is just not going to happen unless you are Samsung. Some others (LG) have come out with a version of multi-tasking after Samsung, but it is clear that Google had to certify those devices after certifying Samsung’s devices. The problem is that LG and the others are now followers as far as the market is concerned, and have no real means of leading.
  • Stephen Elop looks like a genius – With Nokia surging (at least in stock value), the decision to go with WP and not become another Android clone looks like the right one.