In bait and switch, Google throws the hammer down on handset manufacturers ability to tweak Android

Tue, Apr 5, 2011


Google ostensibly delivered Android to save the masses from a world where one company, Apple, was able to dictate how phones were supposed to look and operate. The result has been a smorgasbord of Android handsets with custom UIs and all sorts of wonky tweaks.

But that party is coming to and. Google recently reached out to a number of carriers and handset manufacturers informing them that they won’t be able to put their own stamp on Android without first obtaining approval from Android head Andy rubin. More specifically, Google’s new rules dictate that early access to Google’s latest Android OS will be reserved for those who play by Google’s rules.

This is the new reality described by about a dozen executives working at key companies in the Android ecosystem. Some of those affected include LG, Toshiba, Samsung, and even Facebook, which has been trying to develop an Android device. There have been enough run-ins to trigger complaints with the Justice Dept., according to a person familiar with the matter. The Google that once welcomed all comers to help get its mobile software off the ground has become far more discriminating—especially for companies that want to include Google services such as search and maps on their hardware.

So while Google once touted the freedom of Android to get into the smartphone market, the company is now restricting the freedom they once afforded third parties to help build the Android market in the first place.

The problem is that a number of handset manufacturers like Motorola have now become reliant on Android. Competition amongst Android handsets is fierce and with certain manufacturers like Motorola now inextricably reliant on Android, many companies will have no other choice but to abide by Google’s rules if they want to get their handsets running the latest Android OS out the door as quickly as possible. And in the non-forgiving world of the smartphone market, coming to the market late is almost as bad as not coming to the market at all.

But it gets worse.

Abiding by Google’s rules is not just a prerequisite for companies who want to get early access to Google’s code, but Google has begun demanding, the report notes, that “Android licensees abide by “non-fragmentation clauses” that give Google the final say on how they can tweak the Android code—to make new interfaces and add services—and in some cases whom they can partner with.”

Android head honcho Andy Rubin has said that these clauses are nothing new, and while they may have been existant in pervious Android contracts, Google is reportedly beginning to enforce them with increasing vigor. More over, Google has also made attempts to stifle Android handsets that don’t prioritize Google’s services, such as Android devices on Verizon that use Bing as the device’s default search engine.

More recently, Google announced that it wouldn’t make the code for its tablet OS, honeycomb, available to device manufacturers because it’s not yet optimized for mobile smartphones. But don’t forget, Google is allll about being open..

But with Google reigning in the creativity amongst handset manufacturers, will they end up stifling the Android market to such a degree as to remove product differentiation completely? In effect, Google runs the risk of destroying the very dynamic that enabled them to skyrocket to a majority share of the smartphone market worldwide.


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