Android, Google’s open operating system, which is now powering more than 130 million devices across the world is much more than a buzz word now. Be it a tablet, phone, watch or a robot, it is hard to find a device which isn’t powered by Android. How and why did Android become so ubiquitous? It is because Android is free and open. Yeah right! It turns out Android is neither free and nor open. And Android didn’t become popular because it was free or open. It became popular because it’s from Google.
Let’s start with the open moniker Android has gained since its inception. A recent tracking and study done by VisionMobile has tracked the popular open source projects and ranked them as per their openness. Called as Open Governance Index, the index uses Access, Development, Derivatives and Community to come up with the openness score. Android, Qt, Symbian, MeeGo, Mozilla,Webkit, Linux and Eclipse were ranked against each other. It turns out Android with a 23% of openness score, is the least open of them all. Eclipse with 84% is the most open of them all. Android developers using Eclipse plugin for their development, by the way.
Symbian and Meego are much more open than Android. When Mozilla decided to start its own mobile operating system with a weird name, saying that Android wasn’t open at all, Mozilla had a point. We now have the data to back it up. Well that shouldn’t stop anyone from using Android, but using Android because it’s open argument will not hold any water. Manufacturers might be using Android because they are comfortable with it. Not because it’s open. Besides, only a handful of people in the whole Android ecosystem (including the critique’s) care about Android’s openness. The rest just want their Android devices to work.
Now that we have ‘open’ out of the way, let’s get to free.
Android started out as free and the free advantage is slowly withering away. HTC found it the hard way. It is shelling out $5 per device to Microsoft, not Google, for every Android device it sells. HTC doesn’t pay Google anything but HTC is still paying something for using Android, which is purported to be free to start with. There is a phalanx of patent infringement cases in various corners and Android has more than 40 against it. It turns out, Android isn’t free at all for the manufacturers. Google is running a race to acquire as many patents as cheaply as possible to keep the patent sharks like Microsoft and Apple away from its Android ecosystem and to keep it free. It has bought more than 1000 patents from IBM and is in the race to buy InterDigital’s patents. (Read It’s the patent, stupid, to know how the whole patent game works)
Though no body is backing up on their Android strategy just yet, manufacturers will not be using Android because it’s free. Not anymore. They might be using it because, they are just ‘comfortable’ with it.
Come to think of it, Apple is much better in the way it marketed and positioned iOS. At least it did not make false statements of either free or open. Apple made a good product and made money out of it. Lots of it.
So now, what is free and open about Android?