Now that Apple has loosened up many of its previous restrictions on iOS development, iPhone critics are struggling more than ever to come up with reasons why the iPhone pales in comparison to Google’s Android. One reason still shouted from the rooftops centers on the openness of Android, especially when measured against what were previously Apple’s evil, mysterious, and draconian restrictions.
But while the notion of “open” sounds all well and good, the fact of the matter is that Android, in practice, isn’t that much more open than the iPhone. Now this might sound surprising, but remember that Google doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and while they may have set up Android to be as open as can be, cell carriers are ensuring that Google’s utopian vision of an open platform is nothing more than that – a vision.
MG Sigler of TechCrunch hit the nail on the head in a recent article detailing the numerous ways in which the “openness” of Android is anything but.
Case in point: the last couple of Android phones I’ve gotten as demo units from Google: the EVO 4G and the Droid 2, have been loaded up with crapware installed by the carriers (Sprint and Verizon, respectively). Apple would never let this fly on the iPhone, but the openness of Android means Google has basically no say in the matter. Consumers will get the crapware and they’ll like it. Not only that, plenty of this junk can’t even be uninstalled. How’s that for “open”?
Pre-installed and irremovable crapware? Yikes. Why is this vestige of the Windows era still existent? Unless we’re mistaken, shouldn’t “openness” be a boon for end users and not a tool by which carriers can wield even more power in an attempt to seek out additional revenue streams?
Of course with Android, users can install any app they want from anywhere. Sure, that’s “open.” But isn’t part of being “open” include the ability to not only add any apps you want, but to remove any apps that you don’t want? And oh yes, don’t forget about the Samsung Fascinate Lighting where Bing is the default and only search engine available. How’s that for openness and choice? Apparently Microsoft’s bank account is more than enough to turn “openness” into nothing more than a buzzword.
The fact of the matter is that the openness afforded by Android also has the potential, if we’re not there already, to lead to a disorganized and confusing user experience that leaves Android owners unsatisfied, albeit within the supposedly warm embrace of an open system.
Earlier this year, Verizon rolled out its own V cast app storeon some BlackBerry devices. This occurred despite that fact that BlackBerry devices have their own app store (App World). From what we’re hearing, Verizon is also planning to launch this store on their Android phones as well in the future. Obviously, this store would be pre-installed, and it would likely be more prominently displayed than Android’s own Market for apps.
Does V Cast have some good content? Probably. But most of it is undoubtedly crap that Verizon is trying to sell you for a high fee. But who cares whether it’s great or it’s crap — isn’t the point of “open” supposed to be that the consumer can choose what they want on their own devices? Instead, open is proving to mean that the carriers can choose what they want to do with Android.
Ultimately, the carriers seem to be wrestling back much of the control that they seemingly lost when Apple was able to dictate the terms of the iPhone user experience to AT&T. Verizon is notoriously stubborn and difficult to negotiate with, and they make a lot of money on the crapware that comes pre-loaded on many of their phones. At the end of the day, is being “open” worth the trade-off that comes from dealing with carriers who are solely focused on dollar signs at the expense of an enjoyable user experience? At what point does being “open” actually become a detriment?
Making matters worse, some carriers are not only pushing their own features and apps onto user’s phones, but are actively stunting what Android devices can do out of the box. Not only does the aforementioned Samsung Fascinate Lightning shove Bing down users throats, but AT&T has apparently taken measures to prevent Motorola Backflip and HTC Aria owners from installing apps without first traversing through an app store. Sure, iPhone users have to go through an app store themselves, but iPhone users are under no illusions of running a completely “open” OS.
But wait, there’s more.
Verizon is actively preventing its Android users from installing Skype. Can you imagine the uproar if Apple/AT&T did such a thing? And let’s say you want to tether your device with Android 2.2 – well, you better hope that your carrier supports it because a good number of folks are still waiting for the go-ahead to upgrade.
Android on its own is undoubtedly an open platform. But that openness has breathed new life into carriers looking to tweak Android for their own interests at the expense of the interests of its users. Remember that Apple initially desired to get the iPhone on Verizon before being forced to strike a deal with AT&T. As the story goes, Verizon was simply unwilling to cave into Apple’s demands that the iPhone be free of Verizon influence (i.e no Verizon branding, no crapware). It’s starting to look like Android in the hands of carriers is akin to giving a chemistry set to a devilish and ill-intentioned little boy.
As Android’s marketshare continues to grow, carriers will be even more prone and motivated to make backwards decisions in the interest of piling up more and more cash. In a very tangible way, carriers are actively destroying the one mobile OS that can help them survive the iPhone/AT&T juggernaut.
And just to be clear, we’re not saying that Apple is open. After all, just go and try and delete pre-installed iPhone apps like “Stocks” and “Weather” and see what happens. But with the iPhone, there are no illusions that Apple is running the show. And while some folks may not like how Apple does things, at least users don’t have to worry about wonky and surprising decisions coming down from AT&T as well.
Android, however, is a free for all where carriers and handset makers might very well turn Android’s openness into a negative rather than a positive.