iPhone, Android, and why smartphone openness is a lie

Android not open

I've written several times that the "openness" argument made against Apple's iPhone in general, and by Google against Apple in particular is overblown and often disingenuous. Sure, other smartphones might theoretically be more open at the platform level, but when it comes down to manufacturers and carriers, the end user-facing openness is just not there. We've already been through how manufacturers can lock down ROMs, carriers can lock out side-loading and add bloat-ware, and Google themselves can remote kill apps. But we haven't had real look at just how much of the "completely open" platforms are, you know, completely open.

Enter Robert Werlinger from sibling site PreCentral.net who is at OSCON 2010 and sat in for a talk by the Free Software Foundation on why open-source doesn't always mean open on smartphones.

Just how proprietary are the implementations of Android? After examining what isn’t open source and why in contemporary Android phones (and on HTC G1), Williamson set out to see just how open he could make his phone while still maintaining phone functionality. After stripping all of the proprietary software with the exception of the modem firmware and audio routing software, he was left without: A camera, GPS, WIFI, Sensors, 3D , Bluetooth, Market. A surprising lack of functionality in an operating system that is presumably so “open”. Indeed, Android employs a similar licensing structure to MeeGo and Symbian: The Kernel is GPL and everything is Apache 2.0, allowing for proprietary modifications.

Bottom line, on a truly "open" Android device, you can't even make a phone call. Eric Schmidt's "completely open" is hyperbole when it comes to end users, even power end users. Robert sums it up nicely:

The biggest problem from an enthusiast standpoint is that folks like Cyanogen will continue to exist in a legal grey area, as members of the “open handset alliance” continue to perpetuate the myth that its platform has anything to do with openness.

Apple's iOS is based on the open-source, BSD-licensed Mach kernel and network layers wrapped up in a completely proprietary UI and totally closed and controlled app platform. That has advantages and disadvantages and every user -- from hax0r girl to soccer dad -- will have to decide what better suits their needs.

Any company that thinks they can re-frame the discussion around false "openness" is in for a surprise, however, just as any user switching platforms over philosophy is going to get burned. That's why philosophy be left out of the discussion and smartphone platforms and their backers compete with each other based on technology. In that arena, Google and their Android partners are catching up fast (even overtaking depending on who you asked). In that arena, Microsoft's newly reborn, and proprietary Windows Phone 7 is just as interesting as Palm's extremely open if not open-source, and newly acquired webOS, RIM's ultra locked down, uber-secure BlackBerry as much competition as Nokia's slowly opening Symbian.

Don't believe me? Believe the FSF. Just like cake, "open smartphones" are a lie.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

More Posts



← Previously

Apple launches free case website, iPhone app

Next up →

Otterbox Defender Case for iPhone 4 - first look

There are 65 comments. Add yours.

cardfan says:

Can i install what i want is most important to me without having to have the approval of carrier or maker. It's why i will continue to jailbreak when they figure it out.

drphysx says:

What a stupid article!
Openness means interoperability, compatibility and using standards instead of enforcing artificial restrictions and censorship!
Openness does not mean that you give everything that you've created away for free (well, actually Google does just that) or let others take your work, modify it and sell it as theirs.
Google's applications on Android, like GMail, contain lots of technology, like syncing mechanism, that Google just can't distribute the source code of and let everyone "steal" it.
And they don't have to. Beause that's not what openness means.
When Eric Schmidt talks about openness, he talks about
- the lack of censorship
- unlimited customization
- the ability to install any apps from any source you like
- the openness to third party add-ons like Flash
- using standards like the USB mass storage mode instead of requiring proprietary software
- compatibility with third party services instead of locking users in to a proprietary ecosystem like iTunes
They even go so far as to let other completely replace their apps and services, e.g. Google search with Yahoo or Bing, despite that those services create the only income they get from Android.
Even though Apple does not own a search engine, they are the only ones to determine which services are allowed on iOS and which are not.
Android is as open as it can possibly get. iOS and the whole Apple ecosystem is as closed as things can be.

mkoby says:

There's a difference between the actual software and an OEM's implementation of that software. And it all comes back to what license the software is licensed under.
Android itself is open, open source, and all of that. However, a specific OEM's version of Android that runs on their device will be locked down. The reason for this is to ensure the device works as advertised. The hacking community is completely aware that mucking with the internals means you void your warranty and potentially brick your phone.
However, I can go and download the Android OS, and modify it to my heart's content, it's out there and 100% downloadable. Apple's iOS? Not so much.
What's being pointed out is no different than companies like Tivo or TomTom which use Linux as their base OS and then write their own UI layer on top of it. That's essentially what OEM's are doing with Android, they take the OS and then write their own UI on top of it, making minor modifications to the drivers to ensure the OS works with the chips they install into the phone.

Menno says:

There is a big difference between an "Open" phone and an "open" OS.
Android is an open OS. ANYONE can take it and modify it however they like, design a handset for it, and release it. If they want, they can even remove every hint of google from the software and it's still android.
No, the Motorola Droid, or the Samsung Galaxy S are not "open source handsets" but that's not what the issue is here.As other's have mentioned, you (and the writer at pre-central and the speaker) seem to miss the point that they're talking about the OS after a handset maker already gets a hold of it and customizes it to fit with their proprietary hardware.

Mrjr says:

When Eric Schmdt says "open", he means something different (and somewhat disengenuous, as you point out) than what we generally mean when we discuss open. What is "open"? It's pretty vaguely defined in most tech-blog discussions. If we define it more clearly, we'll have a more profitable discussion.
As it stands, all users really care about (in a discussion of openness) is the abillity to do anything they want on their device. Except for a few widely-publicized, high profile cases, that's possible in Apple land and elsewhere. Anybody vehemently opposed to any "closed" system "in theory" or as a philosophy needs to get a grip. "Open" and "closed" both have purpose.

francolasalsa#IM says:

To 95%of users , open means the ability to install what they want and customize their phone the way the want . So to 95% of users Android and BB OS are more open than iOS. I love my iPhone as much as the next guy but I won't defend the fact that it is am EXTREMLY locked down device ! A JB iPhone is the all way to go and the control you have over your iPhone is crazy. A JB iPhone is atleast four or five OS revisions ahead of IOS 4

Rene Ritchie says:

Install any app from any source when Google -- not Apple -- has remote wiped 2 apps and AT&T has locked people out of side-loading?
Academic distinctions are meaningless to the average end user and "completely open" is just as meaningless when Moto locks down the ROM or AT&T locks out side-loading, or if you deploy a really open Android handset you can't even make a phone call.
It is brilliant marketing that has obviously created FUD, confused users, and created a passionate user base (that is set up for some amount of disappointment down the road when the idealism gets hit -- hard -- by Google's financial reality).

Glenn#IM says:

Mess around withe the new X and you will end up with a brick.

shollomon says:

Even jailbroken there are things my iPhone can't do that it should be able to do. The best example is file management. I can't, under any scenario that I know of, decide that a Word document attached to an email will open by default for viewing and editing in Quickoffice.
This is what open means to me, that I can use my device like I wish, not that I can modify the code, but that I can save files where I want, edit system configuration files, run programs of my choosing (not Apple's) and generally use the device for any legal purpose I wish.
Windows is not "open" in the sense I can hack the kernel, but I can put My Documents pretty much anywhere, I can hack the registry, and I can install any programs I wish. That's what I want from my phone.

JNGold says:

iOS4 allows you to press-and-hold an attachment which will bring up a menu of available applications on your phone to open/view the attachment.
Plus you are applying traditional computing methodologies (ie. File System) to modern smartphones. Microsoft tried that and look where it wound up and where it's going now. I used to feel the same way moving from Palm to Windows (Pocket PC at the time). However, as time moved the need for a filesystem became less important because everything I need to access is accessible via the application(s) that manage those documents. Even more, filesystem access is less important with the popularity and ubiquity of Cloud computing/storage.

Steve says:

I have to agree with drphysx and I do expect better than this from TiPb.

Jonny says:

This whole article is a crock and trying to cover up a completely locked down experience of the iPhone, to an open experience like the android phone, is like the nonsense written about android fragmentation. It is just trying to deflect a major issue with the iPhone for those people who don't know any better and will drink the coo lade. Saying thatbthe phone will not work without gpl is like saying Linux will not work because you have no device drivers to run the keyboard, mouse, monitor, network card, etc. But gee, my 10 different forms of Linux all can run fine. Please show a little more integrity and if you are an apple fanboy, don't use this as an argument against android, you will sound as stupid to people with knowledge as your glorious leader steve sounded when he said there was no antenna problem, and every other phone has the same shoddy reception as the iPhone, etc. This is just a nonsense puff piece and lowers my value of this whole website. Hmmm, is this domain registered to apple marketing, I better check on that. Disappointing.

Rene Ritchie says:

I'll concede this much: If you're a carrier than Android is nearly 100% more open to you than iOS. (Steve screams, apparently).

OrionAntares#CB says:

So you're upset that they are advertising their systems as "completely open" to refer to the control that the user has over the interface configuration and the types of applications they are allowed to use rather than the concept that you could complete strip all the driver software off the phone and be able to replace it with custom driver software that would be able to operate the phone?
Are you really trying to attack the openness of user software control by claiming that the phones aren't open enough because they don't allow full user HARDWARE control?

Oletros says:

Another try from Rene to imply that Android is not open source?
Try again

JNGold says:

Please show a little more integrity by not denying there is no fragmentation issues on the Android platform as well as carriers being able to "lock down" Android to their whim. See? That wasn't so hard now, was it?

Eric says:

I agree with drphysx as well... This article is the lie and misinforms the public about what "Openness" is.
On the OS level, Android IS open. It's the manufacturers that lock down their driver implementations and try to prevent you from loading "non-stock" ROMs (ala X), etc.
You guys all mention the X, or some other phones that are branded as being locked and not really 'open'. Why hasn't anyone said anything about the Nexus One? You can do anything with an N1. Is it Grey market? I don't think so... In addition, it doesn't say anywhere in the EULA that you have to use Android on the N1 and vice versa....
Also, in response to Google Remote Wiping. It was for remote wiping a malicious application that was installed through the Market. I don't think Google has the ability to remote wipe if it was installed via the 3rd party method.

icebike says:

You can download the android source code and build your own version.
You can side load apps, (yes even on AT&T phones), talk to Phil Nikenson, (you may have heard of him).
But, your main point, that some hardware requires proprietary drivers is true. And the FCC will never allow a user programmable radio to be sold to unlicensed users and neither will Canada Department of Communications.
Those radios, and hardware items requiring vendor supplies drivers have locked down drivers (binary blobs in some cases, which end up being licensed. This is true of your PC, you iPhone, and your Android phone (come on, fess up we know you have one).
But GIVEN that, the rest is pretty much open. Go download it: http://source.android.com/source/index.html
And I'm sure you know that there is nothing in the FOSS model that prevents you from adding applications (UI's for example) to Open Source, just as Apple did (before they took the entire BSD core private, as the BSD license allows).
But I don't think I can download the source of iOS4. Correct me if I'm wrong.

MizuNoHane says:

Long time reader of this site. I understand that it's your priority to report on all things Apple-related, but I'm appalled by the blinders-on nature of this article. Foregoing all previous arguments made by the above posters that the OEM/carrier pieces of Android are what disqualifies it from being open, I'd like to offer up a clear example: Google Voice. It's a program that could revolutionize the industry and ultimately benefits consumers. It's on almost all Android phones, and could be on Apple's too. Who kept it out? Apple did. That's a closed system that ISN'T working on the behalf of users but for the benefit of Steve Jobs' coffers. Sure, Google remote wipes 2 apps. Apple has quite blatantly banned several more from the App Store altogether. It's not exactly a worthy differentiator. I'm a huge iPhone fan, but even I know when I'm being kept away from utilizing the phone's full potential. I'm smarter than that, the "average end user" is also smarter than that. Posing the idea that Apple is even close to the same level of openness as Android is galling.

Rene Ritchie says:

Schmidt didn't say "Android is open source", he said Google's business model is "completely open". I got trolled for pointed out the obvious incorrectness of that statement. Fine. This is an Apple site. The Free Software law center gives a presentation on pretty much the same thing and it's still not enough to get some folks to re-examine their misconceptions? I bet Apple wishes they had that level of reality distortion :D
What does the ability to compile and download Android source code mean to Joe Soccer Dad? Nothing. He has no greater control over an Android phone than an iPhone. The only difference is Apple controls the iPhone and the carriers get to control Android. We've seen what Apple's control means and we've seen what carrier control means.
The point of this post is that marketing against Apple based on not being "completely open" is specious and disingenuous when to an end user devices are ultimately closed to greater or lesser degrees.
Does anyone think Google really isn't in the smartphone business to drive market share so they can monetize and profit? Does anyone really have a problem with these devices competing based on technology and not philosophy?

Vincent says:

Actually, there is no "smart" in smartphones...

CeZ says:

I m sorry but this is about THE MOST STUPID article I have ever come across!
I own an iPhone4, an iPad, a Google Nexus One and a HTC HERO. I use them extensively on day to day basis (ok, maybe not the HERO anymore) and enjoy them for different reasons.
Android's openness is not about what u can do when ripping the OS apart, its about all carrier and users have the choice to use them the way they want. Motorola wants to lock down the ROM, that's their choice. Samsung & HTC chose to open up some of their handset while locking down some others, that's also their choice. The bottom line is anyone can implement their own policy on how to use the OS, and any developer can develop freely based on the original OS environment.
iPhone's strength on the other hand is the security that comes along with the closeness. I use my iPhone4 as corporate phone and Nexus One as my choice of entertaining for that very reason. I like the comfort of knowing the limits apple implements on iOS (though there s occasional hiccup), at the same time, I like the little sneaky tricks that my Nexus One does that are "banned" everywhere else.
This is also the reason I never jailbreak my iPhone, and the first thing I did with my android handsets are to unlock the bootloaders. These gadgets are meant to be used differently.
The writer's view is in my opinion extremely biased, and in true apple's spirit shouldn't be allowed to be viewed by the public.
you are just a pathetic.

Lukas says:

The people who truly care about openness would presumably be capable of replacing the carrier's version of Android with a truly open version.

sharonpeters11 says:

Sorry but this article is dreadful, for reasons pointed out by previous posters.

Whatever says:

I hate the fact that this site can be so informative when it comes to iPhone news. Why? Because almost every day when I come to it to find iPhone news, I have to encounter a ridiculous fanboy article like this one.
I suppose TiPb is free to voice whatever it wants, but as soon I find a non-biased iPhone news site, I'll gladly abandon this one. (I'll admit, I haven't looked for an alternate site yet. I'm sure it won't be hard to find though)

Waffles107 says:

Don't be disheartened Rene, trolls will be trolls. :)
I am very annoyed by Apple blocking google voice apps from the store, and I personally wish Apple would allow side loading, but that is not what this article was about. Android, as it runs on the smartphones consumers purchase and use, should be judged on its UI and features, not on the methods used to write it.
Wouldn't it be ridiculous if we demanded that handset makers open sourced their hardware designs, asking to provide for free the chipsets, radios, and logic boards for the open source hardware community to freely edit and contribute to the designs? What if we demanded this of hardware manufacturers not because we believe this makes a better product, but because we've confused ideology with consumer electronics?
Open source software is different, of course, as it has proven to be a viable way of generating software; but try and remember that's all it is, a machine in the long assembly line ALL of these devices must travel from brainstorm to store shelf.

icebike says:


Schmidt didn’t say “Android is open source”, he said Google’s business model is “completely open”. I got trolled for pointed out the obvious incorrectness of that statement. Fine.

But you know that Schmidt was talking about the Android operating system at the time. You just refuse to admit this because it makes your slag of google pointless.
When Jobs announced free cases for everyone, nobody assumed they could get a case for their droid or their orbital sander. Everyone knew the context.
We just wish you would apply the same logic.

icebike says:


Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if we demanded that handset makers open sourced their hardware designs, asking to provide for free the chipsets, radios, and logic boards for the open source hardware community to freely edit and contribute to the designs?

If you want an example or ridiculous, just read your own post.
Could you please stretch the analogy just a little farther into absurdity so that I could get a new brain and new sports car like some of those Apple programmers?

Rene Ritchie says:

I'm not. Anyone calling this post "biased" or "fanboy" either didn't read it or doesn't understand how corporations exploit philosophies like "openness" for marketing reasons. That they're getting upset just shows how good of a job Google has done subverting a deeply held part of computer culture to create one of the largest and most rabid followings in the smartphone space.
"We're open!" has become a personal source of pride for the user despite repeated examples they benefit almost not one wit from that openness while carriers get to take back control of the smartphones -- ironically something Apple first and foremost shut them out of.
Who licensed the trademark to Droid again?

Jcal08 says:

I assume that every single one of you that are talking trash are developers eh?
Last time I check, this is THE IPHONE BLOG.. not Gizconfusedo or Boy Rumors Report.. You don't like what Rene writes, leave, delete this url out of your browsing history, and stop writing pointless comments that no one really cares about.

HateMeCauseYaAintMe says:

@Rene Richie "Academic distinctions are meaningless to the average end user"
I'd argue the "average end user" doesn't care in the slightest about "open", "openness" or "open source." They roll their eyes and go why do you care it's just cell phone. This is a discussion in the world of tech geeks. Of people that care about dual booting linux and windows. This is barely meaningful minutia. it's a geek fixation. not for the normal guy that just wants a cool phone with a camera, that plays his music, and has lots of cool apps.

jzajzz says:

Rene .. Please give it up ..

  • Your argument is childish.... Android is an open OS ... Open means a carrier like ATT can decide to close down some aspects of it .. but the OS itself is open...
  • Completely open vs not completely open is a matter of Semantics.. bottom line is on my Android phone .. I 'm allowed to do a a lot more than any IOS device without having to jailbreak/rooting it..
Rene Ritchie says:

So Schmidt was making the remark in the hopes news outlets would pick it up and let carriers know how easy it is to modify and customize Android? Obviously they already know they have no control over iOS, so what was Schmidt's point? Why did he say that, to whom, and for what effect?

frog says:

Menno: Amd the last time you "just downloaded the source" and built it on your very own, custom built, smartphone - was when? iOS is, for all practical purposes, just as open source as Android - it's all just the underneath stuff, pointless to an end user!

Rene Ritchie says:

I haven't deleted any comments on this thread. Not one. (at least not yet, if you start cursing a lot or posting pr0n you're out of here... ;)

francolasalsa#IM says:

Guys the only thing we can all agree on here is two is better than one , yes some may like android and others may like iPhone and others are stuck with a blackberry with an ancient OS. the fact that they all compete against each other push smartphones forward and the winners are us the consumers ! Long live Android and long live apple and long live soon or one day will be MSN BLackberry

jimbo says:

You are fast becoming the Brietbart of smartphone experts. This sort of out of context, factually incorrect trolling really should be beneath you, Rene.

Webvex says:

"Fan" is a shortening of the word "fanatic." What a bunch of nuts here, on both sides.

Visi says:

So Schmidt was making the remark in the hopes news outlets would pick it up and let carriers know how easy it is to modify and customize Android? Obviously they already know they have no control over iOS, so what was Schmidt’s point? Why did he say that, to whom, and for what effect?
Steve Jobs said that all phones have antenna problems. Why did he say that, to whom, and for what effect?
P.S Don't worry, be happy

Menno says:

Rene, you mentioned remote wipe. Android had this plainly displayed from the moment the market was launched. It's also ONLY about market apps, not side loaded apps. SO if you really want an app you can re-load it. They also publicly announced that they used the feature before anyone else "broke" the story.
Apple also has a remote wipe feature. To my knowledge, they haven't used it yet, but they also didn't admit to having the feature until days after other sources discovered it and broke the story.
So really rene, you're splitting hairs here. I'm not calling you a fanboy, but what you're talking about here is a case of pot calling kettle black.

Tebow says:

wow, you've really outdone yourself with this article and how you're feverishly defending it.. i mean i knew you were a fanboy, but apparently you're going for the fanboy of the year award with all your nonsensical defending of iOS here..
you wanna know what "open" means to a common Android user?? well, i'll be happy to define it for you.. it means that i have the capability of buying a product the doesn't restrict me at every turn.. "open" means that i can fully customize my phone the way i see fit... if i don't like my messaging app, i can replace it.. if i don't like me calendar, i can replace it. i have the ability and the power to do what i WANT! and i know what all you iMonkey fanboys are thinking right now in rebuttal: "but i don't have to change my phone b/c it's perfect.." Right... of course it's perfect for people devoid of individuality and any capability to think for themselves.
so you see Rene, that's what "open" means to the common user.. i'm not a programmer, i haven't rooted my phone nor will i and i don't care about ripping into the Android source code to get my rocks off..
you're article is devoid of substance and you're technology is "Closed" much like your mind if you feel you have the same level of capabilities to customize your Monkey Toy as i do with my Android..
Good Luck.

Rene Ritchie says:

FYI - calling someone a fanboy means 1) you have no reasonable counter argument to make and so are resorting to personal attacks, and 2) you're a fanboy. ;)

Tebow says:

FYI - YOU are 100% correct Rene.. i am a fanboy.. a fanboy of Android, but i'm completely comfortable in my skin and in my support of Android devices over Apple devices..
additionally, if you have taken my fanboy comment of you as an insult, then please allow me to retract that portion of my statement.. however, i do find it a little funny that you took offense to "fanboy" but not to "iMonkey"..
nevertheless, are you able to debunk any part of my argument with a legitimate comment of your own?
Take Care.

drphysx says:

Your post is biased, complete nonsense and just stupid.
Furthermore, the apps Google has removed were a security risk. Comparing that to the thousands of apps that Apple has blocked or removed simply because they were bad for their business is incredibly stupid.
And most importantly, Android is open. It's completely open and iOS is completely closed.
Being open does not mean giving away the technologies you've worked hard on developing.
Obviously, Google is not making their search engine or their synchronization services open source. BMW does not give away the exact construction plans of their engines either. That would be stupid, obviously.
You completely missed the point, that's why your article is so incredibly stupid.
Android is open because
it lacks censorship
it lets you install apps from any source
it works together with any PC, without proprietary sync software
it's customizable
it doesn't lock you into a proprietary ecosystem like Apple's
it doesn't block third party add-ons like Flash
and so on.
That's what being open means here and obviously, Eric Schmidt is right when he says that Android is completely open.
Seriously, your article is one of the most stupid articles I've ever read on the internet.
It's even more stupid than msmobiles.com and that says a lot.

drphysx says:

Btw. I'm really sorry, I tried to be as polite as possible, but you article is just that... bad.

Jerry Hildenbrand says:

Respectfully, title should say "Manufacturers of Android Handsets", not Android. ;)

Ben Gillam says:

But renes point still remains, it doesnt matter if android is open, you cant sell it as open if EVERYONE locks it down and motorola even go as far as to brick your phone if you try and hack it.
Do apple brick your phone if you jailbreak it?

CeZ says:

Android is a platform, not a phone. Motorola/HTC can do almost whatever they want when it comes to security enhancement, that choice is only possible from the openness of the platform.
The same advantage applies to software developers too. The devs at XDA have ripped the android OS open effortlessly for almost all devices,stripped it down to the core, and rebuilt great ROMs on the back of that. And the best part is they are all legally allowed to do so.
I dont understand why iPhone fanboy/ Android fanboy just cant acknowledge the fact that iOS and Android are designed for different purpose.
And as far as this particular article is concern, you just dont know Android.
I do because I use both, give it a try and see if u change ur mind.

CeZ says:

@Ben Gillam, yes iphone BRICK your phone if u not careful when jailbreaking it. My first 3GS was completely f*cked up because of that.

linoox says:

The released Android version you have on any Android phone is never completely open. Because of the Apache 2.0 licensing agreement the carriers can lock it down even further than they could back in the old days with Nokia S40 or SE A200.
The carriers are slowly realizing this opportunity and begin to customize Android handsets in a way, that it gets impossible for normal consumers to remove those custom layers wiithout bricking their phones. Google is slowly loosing it's control over the real Android user experience and now without a Nexus One on the market it get's harder for them to have their latetst and greatest OS version on handsets. Do you know how many Android handsets there are right now on the market, that have Froyo 2.2? Yeah none, zero...and all those new handsets from Samsung maybe get updated, but generally Samsung gives a sh*t about updating their phones.
So this talk about being open...it's a moot point, even when Android could be completely open theoretically, because the handsets that got released are all customized in a proprietary way and you can't even remove some apps like on the Galaxy S models. All thos UI's on top like Sense or TouchWiz lock the phone down and make it less open.

Shrike says:

I think Rene has a point. But it's a small point in the grand scheme of things. It's pretty normal of the fans of a platform (or a team, an individual, a company, etc) to live and breathe the platform's propaganda. When Schmidt says "completely open" or "open" it is indeed propaganda.
However, in the grand scheme of things, "open" is politics for nerds and tech media. It's basically irrelevant to success or failure of a business though. Yes, nerd fandom doesn't really matter, only business models do (how much, how good). Google could really care less about open source or open. It's a political play for them as there is altruism associated with "open" and "free".
And it wasn't because Android is "open source" that it is so good. It's good because Google is pouring millions of dollars into it, and they are unabashed with copying ideas.
You have to remember that Google doesn't do this for free. They do it because their business is to get as many people using their services as possible and to get as much information as possible on the users of their services so that they can do a better job at advertising stuff. So, they are indeed the ultimate and successful dot-com company. They give services away for free and make money on selling advertising. You pay them not with money, but your information such as usage patterns, likes & dislikes, etc.
This type of information is closely guarded by Google. There's no open and transparency when it comes to this information. This type of act isn't considered evil yet, heck, this type of thing is hardly ever mentioned in any circle or news media cycle. Maybe one day when a lot of people realize that everything about them is nothing advertising (a Google search is plastered with advertising and becoming less useful), it'll change.

Orangensaft says:

Rene, the problem with this line of reasoning is that the openness argument isn't so much used to denigrate the iPhone as it is to illustrate the fundamental difference between it and Android.
There is no question that the Android implementation is more open with respect to both hardware and software elements of the phone. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's better than the iPhone solely for that reason. And I think the latest numbers out of Cupertino have demonstrated that quite well.
Personally, I do believe Android is going to win out in terms of number of devices in the long run, but Apple will still continue to make more and more money, year after year.

Orangensaft says:

Finally, I could not agree more with @CeZ in his above post. Android is a platform. An open platform that allows device manufacturers to lock down their phones (e.g. Droid X) if they so choose and nobody will give a rat's ass because yes, the Android platform is just that open.
Does that translate into better devices? Not necessarily! But you can be sure that the whole platform is designed with a totally differently purpose in mind relative to Apple.

Jon says:

I think Rene's article is technically correct, but practically a horrendous argument. A close inspection of the semantics may reveal a different level of openness than what is claimed, but in use, and to consumers, this is irrelevant. The openness that counts for android and the openness that they are selling is the ability to download any app to your device. Sure, att stops sideloading, but there are ways around that and that is att's fault, not androids. The openness is that google does not block out apps like apple. Another factor of this is the ability to replace different parts of the phone. The ability to download a new home screen, or a new keyboard, or even a new dialer. These are the open parts of android that are important.

Virtuous says:

Windows Mobile handsets and iPhones are just as open as Android handsets. Google could require all alterations to stock Android to be open source, but has chosen not to. Calling Android open is at best misleading. The Droid X is a good example of the lie.

Sergey Povzner says:

Like with everything in life, there are different degrees of openness. So manufacturer’s drivers are closed source. And yes, without manufacturer’s drivers Android is not “truly” open. So what?
Once an iPhone user can install Google Voice, he/she can start criticizing Android’s openness. Until then, it sounds comical.

Sergey Povzner says:

That second quote from Robert Werlinger is very misleading. Cyanogen ROMs exist in perfectly legal area.
And open Android Market has definitely something to do with "openness" from end user standpoint, as opposed to Apple App Store which can ban very useful apps to the end user like Google Voice and Flash.

Adam Lassek says:

You are confusing platform openness with source-code openness. I think Google's marketing primarily refers to the former while you are evaluating it as if it were the latter.
OSX, for instance, is almost entirely closed-source yet still an open platform compared to iOS.

Jon Davis says:

This article completely misses the point of what makes Android an open platform. Certainly there are legal reservations made to protect certain components as with the licensing terms. The openness is made not by the presence of legal terms but by what they are there for. Apple's license terms exist to control the marketplace, to control the platform, to control the aesthetic directions, to control the functional enhancements, and to ultimately ensure that the platform is exclusively theirs. Android licensing terms exist to protect the innovator as well as to support the end user. Only with some kind of licensing terms can the Android platform be protected from the likes of Apple taking over the platform to make it proprietary.
Further, as others have noted, Android can be used for most any hardware device, not just smartphone. All it needs is some driver support and perhaps some other weakest such as with the UI. To argue that Android is not truly open because it runs on hardware that has proprietary components is like saying that Linux is not truly open because it can be purchased installed on a Dell Mini laptop, which has some proprietary components with closed-source hardware drivers. Linux (and Android) is not a hardware implementation.

alienangel says:

"Any company that thinks they can re-frame the discussion around false “openness” is in for a surprise"
Given that the meaning of "openness" he's using is completely irrelevant to 99% of phone users, I'm not sure where this guy thinks he's going with this. So the phone being loaded with proprietary software that the end user is free to replace is somehow worse than the phone being loaded with proprietary software that the user can't replace? Just because the latter can be stripped of all proprietary stuff and still make calls? WTF would you want to strip a smartphone of all proprietary stuff for if you're not going to replace what you lose?
The Openness that is relevant to users is that on the android phones you actually can strip them down if you want and replace everything you took out with something else you personally deem more suitable (and people do this, since the OS source is available for anyone to download, modify, recompile and redistribute). You can't on the IOS phones.

valued customer says:

I come here to learn about iPhones but every time I come here there are always articles bashing android. I go to android central to see what they say about iPhones but all they talk about there is android. WTF?

lemiffe says:

That's not the point. The point of "open" in this sense is the ability to modify the kernel to your liking. If that's not open, then what is? Oh, and you can always overwrite the proprietary drivers with your own ones, assuming you have the time, patience and knowledge to develop them yourself. The fact remains that the actual device's operating system is open and that is what Android addresses... As the iPhone OS is not open.
Interesting that so many other comments seem to think the same way as I do.

Ben Gillam says:

You are quite right you can brick an iphone, but its not a security measure put their by apple, bricking iphones is caused by doing it wrong, or the tool you are using not working right, apple didnt put a switch in to detect the jailbreak with the express intention of killing the phone if i finds one, which is what the droid x is designed to do

Elidia Holck says:

The Bel Air was just released with dsIDXPress integration.