Developers weigh in on Android vs. iOS openness

Former Facebook for iPhone developer Joe Hewitt has weighed in on the Steve Jobs re-ignited "openness" debate with a cogent argument that Android isn't much more open than iOS, at least not in the true spirit of the term. Here's what he posted (mostly via Twitter for iPad, for those keeping track at home):

How does Android get away with the "open" claim when the source isn't public until major releases, and no one outside Google can check in? [@joehewitt]

Compare the Android "open source" model to Firefox or Linux if you want to see how disingenuous that "open" claim is. [@joehewitt]

Until Android is read/write open, it's no different than iOS to me. Open source means sharing control with the community, not show and tell. [@joehewitt]

The comparison to Mozilla is something our own Phil Nickinson of Android Central made during our recent podcast bonus feature on openness and it's a good one. Hewitt famously walked away from developing Facebook for iPhone because he didn't like Apple's closed Apple Store, whether or not he's secretly working on a secret Facebook phone right now alongside former Android lead Eric Tseng, he makes an interesting case.

And it goes back to what we've been saying for a long time -- at the end of the day it isn't hyperbole that matters, not about open or closed, fragmented or integrated, uncontrolled or restricted, it's about who makes the best phones for consumers and who provides the best platform for developers (either to write the code they want or make the money they need to feed their families). That's echoed in a great discussion between David Barnard of App Cubby and Liessen on Twitter:

"Open" is an emotional argument pandering to the philosophy of developing in a perfect world where it's about freedom not money. [@Lessien]

Maybe it's the circles I run in, but I don't know many coders who can eat, drink, or find shelter in this freedom you speak of. ;) [@drbarnard]

So let's worry more about the end user product and less about the philosophies of the OS and manufacturing companies, okay?

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Developers weigh in on Android vs. iOS openness


If we're talking about best platform for devs, then until recently Apple was guilty of trying to dictate to devs what kind of tools allowed them to create their works of art.

I don't care who's more open or closed. I just want to have a phone that does everything I want it to do so this discussion is pointless because no one will win the argument. Now stop playing around and go back to work on the next updated for Android and iOs. M'kay!

Isn't this sad? I mean virtually every post on this site, and every word out of Steve Jobs' mouth is attacking or posturing against android. Its really pitiful. Are you that scared of the growth of android? Grow up. Concentrate on making your device and your OS better rather than constantly throwing mud because you have a serious competitor. I visit androidcentral and this site on a daily basis, and the amount of negative articles about the other platform is 9:1 for tipb vs androidcentral.

And every post it seems mentions apple in some way on AC. There is quite the inferiority complex there. Go into these forums and android is hardly mentioned. Personally I'm tired of reading it. I'm interested in technology not cheerleading.

i agree. how come whenever i visit android central i scroll down to the bottom and what do you know!? theres always a new article involving steve jobs bashing google/android or something else having to do with google/android over at tipb. wonder why that is...

Google railed against Apple and the iPhone at their recent I/O conference this past spring. It was absolutely juvenile the way they behaved. You could say they threw the first punch and for too long they've controlled the message. Steve just took it back and I think he plans to keep control of it. We all can agree that Apple is the master of control (Pun intended). God help Google. Going forward these are Apples terms: Google is fragmented and Apple is integrated.
Outside of the PR battle, Apple's innovation is driving this industry (Not Google's) and their focus on the consumer first and also providing a profitable platform for developers is the winning combination.

you're pretty sad that when google spent the whole of their conference bashing apple, everyone was saying "owned" but now apple has bashed google suddenly it's pitiful and sad ? your double standards are laughable.

Who gives a crap, ill use my iphone , people will use android, end of story . Buy what u want. Can there be not 2 "brands" of quality $hit out there for our choosing?

Android is open in the sense that a manufacturer and carrier can take it and use it for any phone they want to make. It's open in the sense that anyone can develop for it. That's what Google had said and meant when they said that Android is open. But people like to come out and twist Google's meaning of open around. Compared to iOS which is closed, because you won't see it on a Motorola device, a Samsung device, a HTC device or any other device that's not an Apple device, Apple controls it all.

It comes off a little as Android bashing because Rene has done that in the past, but I think Rene has it right in his last paragraph, it comes down to who makes the best phone for consumers to do the stuff they want to do.
I also think it's important for both to survive, because competition drives innovation. Geeks are too often interested in picking a side and bashing the other side until their side wins and the other side crawls away into market oblivion. If one side "wins" in this manner, both sides lose, I think.
Neither Google nor Apple are perfect, and in a world of programming and consumer ideals neither Android or iOS would resemble what they do now. I think we should push for more freedom, both from these companies, but even more so from the wireless providers. Everyone wants verizon to be a winner, but let's hope AT&T can give them enough competition that consumers win. I would hate for Verizon to be the only wireless carrier in the US.
@Keil Miller: you can download apps with "adult language" they will simply state that the app is rated 17+. As for Nudity, I can't blame Apple entirely for this. US society (and much of the world) as a whole is way too uptight. I would prefer Apple be a leader in this regard but Apple does this to prevent porn prudes and lawsuit jerks from suing them left and right over pornography. Apple chose to centralize their distribution of apps. Easier for the consumer to find, but also easier for prudes to find fault with as well.
@TK: Actually I think at times Google throws around "open" a little too much, because the devil is in the details. Many geeks think "open" is "open source." Android is not entirely open source, as this article shows. Also if you mean open as you wrote meaning "anyone can develop for it" well then anyone can develop for iOS too, there's no artificial limitation where company A can't submit an App for just for being who they are. If you define "open" as "you can use any development tool you want for Android" that is true, but now our definition of open is much narrower, and if that is such a great thing, why are there 278,000 apps on the Apple app store but far less in the Android stores? My point is that Google is using the word open far too generally in a marketing sense, not in a real world argument sense. To me they are trying to play Steve's game with words just like Steve does, so that makes them no worse but no better than Apple in this regard, IMHO.

Rene...why in high heavens and low hells are you still on this????
Can we please stop talking about it. You keep saying that the consumer doesn't give a rat's ass about open or why on a site where the normal consumer congregates...are you going on and on about open vs not so open vs closed vs not so closed yet not so open???
I feel like a 10yr old is writing these articles now. A 10yr old who always have to reassure himself that he made a "good" purchase.

That's not a geek to me. A true geek loves all thing technological. They may prefer one or the other. But in the end they see the good in the opposing and appreciate it.
What Rene has been doing lately is just trying to write Android and every other platform off as nothing...since that's what Jobs is doing. You know most loyalist (not just Apple's) are just playing a boring game of Monkey See, Monkey Do.

And he's absolutely right. Google's claims of 'openness' are nothing more than a dog & pony show.

"Open" in the broader sense means:-

  1. Source code of OS is available free. Manufacturers can use it in their phones but they have to publish the full source of their implementation to the public. Developers community can be involved in enhancing further the OS.
  2. Seamlessly gives freedom to end-users to choose their own app to consume content without restrictions or destablising the phone (e.g. set a 3rd party browser/email/sms/player/lock screen/home screen/launcher as the default or dynamically choose one during runtime depending on the content requirement)
  3. No big brother oversee. Every app has equal citizenship. AppStore/Market does not discriminate (even rooting app is allowed). App requires to disclose permission requirement during installation and end-users (not big brother) decide whether to accept or not.
  4. Freedom to users to chooose any sync options (WMP, usb-drive, BT, cloud or even Itunes) to transfer data in/out of phone.
  5. Freedom to users to choose whatever format for their data (incl. media/file/video format) without need to use proprietary software to convert.
  6. Cater to End-users of all tech-level. Do not typecast any group of users or tell them what's best for them or confuse them with marketing talks or bind them to proprietary systems.
  7. Freedom to developers to use the full capability of the phone/API to build app (incl. those that compete with the vendor app).
  8. Freedom to developers to use any IDE programming platforms including incorporating their own base libraries (e.g. Flash etc).
  9. Backward compatibility of app. All higher versions of Android can use app developed before it.
  10. Freedom to entrepreneurs to offer their own Market/AppStore. More choices/competitions. End-users can choose whichever store to use (incl. ability to side-load apps).

ANDROID allows ALL the above
IPHONE/IOS allows NONE of the above [/b]
So you decide which is more open?

Mr Hewitt is incorrect. The spirit of open source refers to access to a finished product's source materials. What Hewitt WANTS surpasses the scope of open source. Firefox offers that if that's what people want. Open source does not yield control of a finished product's origin to the public. It gives the public the finished product's organs. In other words, open source is an organ donor bank for bad business minded developers looking to swoop in on GPL licensed material instead of organically developing their own IP. Open source does not mean free. Firefox does.