Openy

Google won't be releasing the source code for Android 3.0 Honeycomb any time soon. (For an excellent overview of why that is and what it means, see Jerry Hildenbrand's article over at our sibling site, Android Central.) What makes this interesting for TiPb is that, for a while now, Google has used the term "open" as a hammer to differentiate themselves from Apple, iOS, and the iPhone. From Eric Schmidt's "completely open" quips to Vic Gundotra I/O smack-talk to Andy Rubin's now-ironic tweet, it's been clear from the start that "open" wasn't a development philosophy for Google so much as a business and marketing strategy. It was a brilliant if disingenuous move that rallied many hardcore free and open-source software advocates to their cause (and platform) and got a bevy of tech writers to skewer Apple for being equally and oppositely "closed".

That it was business and marketing rather than philosophy was fairly clear from the start -- "open" is such a nebulous term to begin with. Open to whom and in what way? Even if we restrict ourselves to open-source, Android was never Stallman-class open, GPL licensed and patent unencumbered. It was never even Mozilla-class open, where the source was freely available even during development phases (most of us couldn't download, compile, and contribute back to Gingerbread before the Nexus S debuted). It was Google-class open, which meant it was only released when it benefitted Google, and only really meant for manufacturers and carriers. We've spoken about it plenty of times here at TiPb, and so has Android Central. (Phil Nickinson and I even did a special podcast on it back in October.)

It's kind of like that popsicle you get at the corner store -- it's not chocolate, it's chocolaty. Android was never open. It was openy.

That's fine. It's even good. It let Google make the arrangements they needed to make with manufacturers and carriers to get Android accepted and deployed at the scale it enjoys today. An Android that didn't let manufacturers lock down bootloaders and carriers lock out sideloaders, that didn't allow for bloatware and feature removal, wouldn't be the number one fastest growing phone OS on the planet. (webOS, though proprietary, is arguably far more meaningfully open to developers and users than Android, but didn't get anywhere near the carrier support.)

Likewise, if Google has open-sourced their search algorithms, AdWords and AdSense code, and internal infrastructure programming it would likely have been bought by Oracle instead of being sued by them.

Apple's the same way. They protect their revenue streams -- their interfaces and designs, products and presentations, and they open source WebKit and a large number of other ancillary projects. Both are for-profit companies after all, tightly controlling the areas they dominate with proprietary code and fragmenting those they don't with free software. Google simply chose to deliberately use (is mis-used) the term "open" as a way to counter-program Apple...

And because of Honeycomb it's come back to bite them in the @$$ this week.

That's too bad. Android is a fantastic OS and is getting better and better with each iteration. It's powerful, customizable, and functional in ways iOS simply can't be at the moment. (Hopefully Matias Duarte will soon give it an interface to match, if Google can get those 40 shades of blue out of his way.)

It's just not now nor has it ever been "open" -- it has been and remains "openy".

Now that Schmidt can't get away with "completely open", Gundotra needs to fear for a future of his own creation, and Rubin's make command will error out with file not found, maybe we'll get less rhetoric from Google and Apple both. Ultimately I don't care who's more open or more integrated -- I just care who makes me the better phone and tablet.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 35 comments. Add yours.

Duvi says:

It's only open when it's in their best interest.

Jon says:

Well considered, Rene.

dave says:

all fair points, one other question too
where is the OPENSOURCE factime? steve promised it!!

Ray says:

Probably coming with the release of Lion since FaceTime may come with it - it's included with the dev preview of Lion ;)

Rene Ritchie says:

Open standard, not open source. FaceTime is a collection of open standards, everything from audio/video codecs to nat traversal protocols. Apple really needs to release their implementation.

(Copy of) Dev says:

Unfortunately, Apple needs to release more than that. Facetime is built on a collection of open standards, but it in itself is not open in any sense of the word, as Apple has never released anything more than draft recommendations with no avenue for comments or contributions, and even those drafts are woefully out of date.
Even it they were to release it, at the moment Facetime depends on a certificate service purely run and controlled by Apple. Even if Apple were to reverse all the other above conditions and release every implementation details, we still would not get interoperable devices, as most manufacturers will not invest in a system where Apple can kill them by revoking a certificate. They will either invent their own system, or sit out.
Which is too bad, because Facetime works really nicely -- it could easily become ubiquitous if/when Apple loosens the reins a bit.

Rene Ritchie says:

I may be wrong but I get the feeling FaceTime isn't fully baked. (Ironically, much like Honeycomb). It's just come out of Beta on Mac, is separate from iChat, and while it works well it's incredibly bare bones (and as you say, far too dependent on Apple).
What would they need to do, flesh it out so others could issue valid certificates?

(Copy of) Dev says:

You may be right there. I am not sure if Apple is witholding even spec updates because they see some competitive advantage, or if they simply are not ready to release what they have done yet. It is probably a much harder problem than I assume, but, just spitballing, I would think this is what Apple could do to kickstart Facetime in a wider (more than just Apple) context:
1) Release a final, up-to-date specification, saying "this is it; this is what we use today, and it will not change without process XYZ" Inviting another company to work with the spec would help allay other manufacturer's concerns, but that might be too far Apple's comfort.
2) Incubate (or help somebody else start) an OSS reference implementation that, while it may not be as good as Apple's own client, would at least be an independent implementation of that specification to prove the spec is fully baked.
3) Remove the Apple certificate dependency, either by transferring the certificate authority to some neutral third party or to allow for some sort of federated system whereby multiple certificate authorities could coexist peacefully.
I like Facetime, but I never use it because all my friends and family have been on Skype for years. I In 5 or 10 years, we will look back from our standard-video-chat-phones and wonder how we could tolerate a system whereby Skype, Facetime, Qik, AIM, Gchat, Y!, etc. users could not talk to each other. But, before that can happen, somebody has to set a standard. Facetime seems a better candidate than most, but only if Apple can loosen things up a bit.

(Copy of) Dev says:

No, Rene, Google didn't mis-use the term "open."
Until Honeycomb.

Rene Ritchie says:

They misused the term "completely open". Or were you able to read and contribute code to Gingerbread during the initial dev cycle? Likewise, where were the WebKit-style nightly builds for Froyo? Rubin's tweet not withstanding, those weren't easy to make.

(Copy of) Dev says:

You seem to be attempting to put words in my mouth. I never defended Schmitt's use of the phrase "completely" open. At best, he exaggerated here, if not outright lied.
You did, however, say that they misused the term (without qualifiers) "open," and without defining what you mean by it. Note the difference?
Heck, Android was not nearly as open as I would like before, but the terms by which code was released was published and consistent throughout. Until Honeycomb.
To be charitable to Google, it may be that Honeycomb was released half-baked to try and stem the iPad tide, and it is simply not in a state where they can show the innards. Or, it could be more nefarious; I don't know. Either way, I am disappointed with the decision, as it seems the first real move (by Google, at least) counter to the original spirit of the Android project.

S.meezy#CB says:

meh, open source would be lovely but no service provider would have it be... they need to make their monies... android is still more open and allows more freedom, but I do see your point...(sent from my iPhone 4)

Rene Ritchie says:

Agreed. Open Moko was more open than Android and that didn't fare well.

SteveW928 says:

Great article Rene!
Love the picture... until I moused over it, I thought maybe it was someone who had just purchased a Xoom instead of an iPad. ;)

Ilovegeorgia says:

So right open has always been a marketing term and some consumers eat it up. A lot of people fight for android saying it's fully open, when they dont know what they are talking about.

pepperonijack says:

First, "open source" is not GPL (case in point: Apache). And it's not a philosophy. If they release the code, it's open souce. If they don't, it's not.
That being said, I've always understood "Android is open" as the opposite of "iOS is locked down", in that there are multiple sources of apps (sideloading, alternative markets), you can replace almost every feature (default mail client, home screen, keyboard, etc.), and more generally you have access to more behind-the-curtain stuff to customize your experience (and/or screw up your system).
I don't think Google has changed its philosophy regarding Android (the days of bloatware are not over), and the excuse they gave for not releasing Honeycomb's code is pretty lame, so I'm pretty sure the real reason is that they are ashamed of the code. If I had to guess why, I would say either really awful code, obvious security flaws or blatant copyright infrigement.
In a few weeks/months, when they have cleaned the code ans pushed update to remove any trace of the current version, they'll release the code and everything will be back to what it was before.

ImJusInCredible says:

As a developer, I was thinking the same thing. It's not available yet because they still have header files that say SUN MICROSYSTEMS.

Steve says:

You'll always be able to find a definition of "open" that is not met.
For me (not an android owner, yet) the definition of open that is important to me is that I can install what I want on a device, do what I want with it, etc.
How many users care about open source, vs how many care about being able to install stuff without Google having approved it?

Interested says:

Well under your definition of open Android fails because Google retain the right to remove apps from your phone and they have done this. In my opinion Googles curation has been much more liberal than that of Apple, but this isn't guaranteed by the Android platform - it's just the goodwill of Google so far.

Greg Foster says:

Are you serious?! I just read that article over at Android central and you would think that guys dog died! He's not gonna buy a tablet and this that and another. OMG, I can't believe grown men behave that way when it comes to be able to "hack" their phones!
Jesus...

crome1115#IM says:

i hear what your saying.. im new to the iphone on verizon.. loving it.. but then again im an apple fan. have been using a mac for few years now and cant imagine going back to a pc..ive seen the post on the honeycomb "not being open" article and your right. people are a little rediculous when it comes to this stuff.. me i have had 2 droid phones. rooted and loved them but truth of the matter is, ios is more stable than anroid (even rooted w/o bloatware to mess things up).. i have yet to have my iphone "forceclose" any apps or slow down or freeze up or have issues when answering calls and or text messages or low memory errors (with 8gigs on board this should not be happening with so little media on the device) all of which happen on android devices and in some cases quite frequently (im the store tech at verizon.. i see it all..lol)... all i wanted to get at is that people (grown men) should just move on to something else if it suits them (like i did) and not have such a break down..lol..oh.. and for the record.. i dont think Jesus had anything to do with it...=)

JD says:

For the most part people don't even care about this stuff... they just want a phone that works. Some want the cheapest smartphone they can get on their carrier - this has led the charge for Android, not "open" etc. I'd argue the stupid green robot does more to sell Android than "open" ever did (in the non tech world at least)
What bugs me are the "open" zealots who constantly preach anti-Apple while not realizing how hypocritical they are being about their own device or their love for a large company. Its too bad because Android to me has become associated with people who are cheap, take bad advice, or are D&D type tech geeks who will defend their device decision to their death.
Yes there are people who buy iPhones as a fashion or status thing and you can make fun of that if you want, but look in the mirror Android owners, before you call out Apple or the next fanboy you come across.

TFausett says:

I just like the pic of Rene kicking android in the groin.

seb_or_sam says:

Actually, that's not Rene kicking the Android robot in the crotch- that's CrackBerry Kevin.

SockRolid says:

"it was only released when it benefitted Google, and only really meant for manufacturers and carriers"
The perfect recipe for fragmentation. Manufacturers want to differentiate themselves, to try to be more than just cookie-cutter generic handset makers. So they layer their own GUI skins on top of Android. Carriers want to lock in their subscribers, so they create their own proprietary app stores and switch out Google maps and search for other map and search engines. The result? The perfect storm of fragmentation from the developer perspective.
"Open" can mean "Former enemies trying to work together out of desperation in order to compete against the dominant leader." This is the meaning of "Open" in the old Common Open Software Environment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CommonOpenSoftware_Environment) A bunch of UNIX vendors tried to unify themselves against Microsoft. FAIL.
"Open" also can mean "We have to give this stuff away to gain market share." This is more or less what Google is trying to do with Android. Google is just doing lip service to openness. They aren't really crowdsourcing Android like true open source.
Either of those two definitions of "open" indicate desperation to me.

rb says:

Desperation is Steve Jobs and his oddball android=porn rant.
Desperation is The 'antennagate' whitewash - "yeah we put the antenna on the outside, which is a dumb think to do, but first we'll blame you for 'holding it wrong' then throw dirt at all phones and hope some of it will stick."
Apple are quaking in their turtlenecks, their user base has been saturated, and the market for smartphones is still growing with the one O/S that offers what consumers what they want - CHOICE - making more headway than any other.
Finally an iPhone on Verizon, and how much market share did it generate? 0.2% - WOW! really scary:
http://www.24android.com/android-news/7-increase-in-u-s-android-market-s...

Rene KupaL fanboy says:

rene, bakit napaka kupal mo? Putang ina mo! siguro bakla ka at maliit ang titi mo kaya ka kulang sa pansin?

Okruch says:

Google is your best friend. Get a decent phone with "openy" OS and use translator :D

rb says:

open, not open, part open, sorry this is just BS and 'spin'
The real issue is:
iphone is buy it as we made it, or not at all.
android is, here's a ton of different configurations of phones, pick the one that suits you best.
That's why i'm android all the way, i can have the type of phone that suits me.
And there's nothing that apple can do about it unless they change their corporate strategy, which they won't.

Andrew says:

They only said they were delaying the release of the source code until they were sure it could be run on phones and other devices, because they don't want manufacturers porting it over to smaller devices (such as phones) that may not be able to run it and create a bad user experience. They did not say they were never going to release it. They will likely either release it when they are sure it can be safely run on phones or other devices or when the phone and tablet OS lines converge with Ice Cream.
Either way, this will avoid fragmentation and will help to create a better user experience, which was Google's intention with the development of Honeycomb. It doesn't mean they've changed their core philosphy.
On another note, what exactly does this have to do with anything iOS?

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JobiWan144 says:

As a proud Android user, Rene, I like your attitude. You want the device that is best for the end user, not the one with the "best" (a quite debatable description) philosophy, and that's what we should all want. By this logic, there could possibly be an Android, Windows, BlackBerry, or other (Boot2Gecko, anyone?) device that you end up liking better than the current iPhone/iPad, you'll jump ship to that one and support it. I'm gonna try to emulate that, if you don't mind. Heck, in 2014 when my contract expires, who knows who'll be the top dog? The iPhone 4 was, at release, the best phone, Android was still an adolescent, and Nokia and RIM were on the decline. Today, Android's on top in market share, Apple's still very much alive and kicking and will sell unearthly numbers of iPhone 5s, and Nokia/ MS and RIM are trying to stage a comeback. Things change quickly in tech, and we're just watching and buying what suits our respective fancies.

Sorry for the book, but remember what Pres. Bartlett said about 10-word answers.
P.S. Got here because Android Central linked here.