Would Verizon still want iPhone if they could fork over Android and make their own Droid OS?

We keep hearing rumors about iPhone on Verizon but at the same time Verizon is doing gangbusters with their Android-powered Droid line, and running roughshod over Google to do it in a way they'd never be able to with Apple. So what if they took the next illogical step and just forked Android and made their own Verizon (or Droid) OS?

Not to rehash too much, but Verizon, Motorola, and Samsung have mutated Google's "openy" Android platform into a bootloader-locked, Bing-locked, hacker-hostile bloatware-crusted bag of hurt.

Right now Google still has some control -- they can deny Google apps like Gmail and Market to handsets that don't meet their nebulous criteria for a "with Google" phone. (That they're not already doing that to protect customers from Verizon is disheartening to say the least). But Verizon could take even that little leverage away from them.

Verizon will soon be offering their own app store and API's, maybe to replace Android Market. (Lest we forget, they also deny Palm Pre on Verizon access to aGPS, forcing anything outside the official Verizon Navigation app to use the slower, unassisted GPS option). And what if they don't stop there? What if they go full tilt into a fork of the Android OS all their own. A fragmented, totally independent, wholly proprietary Verizon Droid OS with it's own set of API and Market that would only work on Verizon. And it could have Bing. And it could have Hotmail. Locked down. (Or it could have whatever the highest bidder gives Verizon, customers be damned.)

Right now if you have an unlocked iPhone on one GSM carrier (something increasingly common outside the US) and you move to another carrier, all your apps come with you (and they come to your iPad or iPod touch as well). And you have Google Search, Gmail, and Google Maps working great on them, with easy access to Bing or Hotmail or Yahoo! or MobileMe or Exchange or whatever you want. If you have a future Moto or Samsung Droid OS device on Verizon, using Verizon API, could you move to a more openy T-Mobile or Sprint "Google Experience" device? Would you lose all your apps? You V-services?

Once again, Apple almost totally disintermediated the carriers with the iPhone. Given past and present history, what seems more likely -- for Verizon to cave to Apple and offer a pristine iPhone experience on their network, or for them to tell Apple to get lost and stick with Android, an incredibly powerful, modern OS that's been given to them on a silver platter?

There's a chance an iPhone on Verizon would make great gobs of money enough they'd release it anyway, but I'm thinking the nightmare scenario above is becoming increasingly more likely.

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+.

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There are 26 comments. Add yours.

Fraydog says:

Short of forcing everything onto LTE and making the mobile carriers accept open devices like Androids with no crapware or iPhones, I don't see any win here for consumers. Where I live, people think drink the Kool-Aid for Verizon and it makes me sick.

Menno says:

This could happen, but I don't really see it. Verizon's spent too much marketing the "Google" apps to cut them off entirely.
What I DO see them doing is coming out with a locked down version of android to replace high end feature phones (and make a special data plan for them) This could be "DroidOS"
I'm not saying that what you're suggesting is impossible, it could happen. But I don't see them getting away with it. What happens when I (or someone else) wants to upgrade our phones to another android phone, and we only have DroidOS? I have almost 100 in apps that won't transfer? They tried the require data on feature phones, it looks like that is going away (they'll just offer less high end phones).
If they do completely remove Google from android I know a lot of uers, most of them no techies, who will give no thought to porting out.

(Copy of) Dev says:

Your nightmare scenario is only likely if you use a horribly incorrect definition of the term "fork." Simply put, Verizon will never fork Android because it is a drastic, expensive burden to maintain their own separate codebase for all of Android, which would force them to miss out on a large part of what makes Android. Perhaps even more to the point, If Verizon's goal was a locked down VZDroid, they have ways to achieve this that are orders of magnitude cheaper than creating their own fork of Android. Their own thin UI layer (a la Sense) could accomplish every one of those goals at a teeny tiny fraction of the cost.
The argument about Verizon-only APIs is similarly rubbish - you again drastically underestimate (or do not care) about the time or cost involved in creating your own (fork of) platform. It takes a hat of the thickest tinfoil to assert Verizon will alter core APIs enough to break binary compatibility just so somebody who bought GroceryIQ or AngryBirds from a VStore cannot take it with them to Sprint. That hat must further be reinforced with adamantium to discount the effort and expense (read: bribes) to developers to get them to introduce such expensive, self-defeating unnecessary complexity. Without a dozen or so such killer apps/devs Verizon-only, it is a huge cost to VZW without a single extra sale. Worse, such changes in core APIs could just as easily have the opposite effect, where "stock" Android apps would not run a your theoretical VZWDroid, which makes it an even sillier idea. (VZW service apps are of course excepted, but that is the way it works now on all platforms, or are you able to take VZW NFL Mobile to Sprint, or AT&T Navigator to Verizon?)
tl;dr - No, VZW will never fork Android, as even a passing understanding of what that term means shows there would be no, or negative, ROI for such a move.

GAMH says:

I would not have said better. That's the frustration I already had with Verizon years ago when I switched to AT&T. Dropped calls? Well guess what: no difference between the two in my experience. O keep a Verizon phone (and note that it is not a smartphone) handy solely because of corporate discounts and the Mexico voice package that for some absurd reason (I guess Cingular is still alive and well) AT&T dropped including their unlimited data Mexico package. I also have the mifi card just because company pays for it and AT&T has not come with a similar product yet. I find that the iPhone in 3G mode is faster nowadays than the Verizon network.

Edie says:

Verizon sucks though. All they're good at is coverage, slow data, and charging you more for nothing :o

Webvex says:

I agree with (Copy Of) Dev. I could see a Verizon skin, like HTC's Sense, but not a full fork. That won't happen. I also agree with the other comments about the level of delusion regarding Verizon's advantages. Verizon is so good at marketing, people actually believe their coverage is better. Coverage always depends on where you live and travel. Even if you concede the coverage, AT&T beats them in absolutely every other category.

Victor says:

That's definitely one thing I hated about Verizon... any time I would buy an app for an older feature phone (weather, tetris or whatever it may be) I would always have to buy it again for my next phone. It was not a good experience at all. I'm sure that's exactly what they want for future phones as well.

Pimp Lucious says:

Great post (Copy of) Dev. Rene's absurd line of reasoning is based on the flimsiest of misconstrued data, ignoring the obvious disadvantages and pitfalls. Honestly its more FUD against Android than anything else.

Rene Ritchie says:

Verizon is already making their own API for things like aGPS. It only takes a few really important ones to make migration painful.
You're thinking a fork has to be extreme. They can make a minor but painful fork of every Android release going forward.

LzarEus says:

If the iPhone ever did come to Verizon, one stamp of their logo anywhere on the phone would make me sick with disgust. They leave it alone in all it's "pristine" glory then I might consider switching networks. Don't see it happening though.

Shrike says:

@Rene "So what if they took the next illogical step and just forked Android and made their own Verizon (or Droid) OS?"
There is nothing illogical about it. It's a logical outcome of Google's Android strategy. Perhaps your mistake was using the word "fork" when you really meant "forkiness" or "forky". ;)
Really, a silo-ing or smokestaking of Android with carrier unique implementations was an explicit risk with making Android "open". What made people think that carriers and manufacturers would just roll over and do what Google wants? There was ad revenue sharing, supposedly, but there's nothing stopping some entity from wanting it all.
It is all matter of when, not if. The carriers are definitely in the drivers seat too.

The Reptile says:

Maybe, an Android strategy would initially be profitable and serve them well. As long as the public is convinced that Android is at worst at parity with iOS things would be fine. However, there will come a point in time where a strategy like that will be a disadvantage and they will look like the carrier they were 5 years ago - stagnant, without innovation and viewed as a walled garden. So long as Apple continues to remain profitable and demonstrate that the handsets deserve to be controlled by handset manufacturers then Verizon's strategy will be at risk.

mark says:

the headline ("Would Verizon still want iPhone if they could fork over Android...") doesn't make sense. the phrase "fork over" means "give away," but you aren't talking about verizon "giving away" android. not a good choice of words, i'm afraid. :-)

Rene Ritchie says:

@mark, It's a play on words, using "fork" in place of another four letter f-word that better represents what Verizon is doing to Android and Google.

Federico says:

They always have had that ability. Any programmer worth his salt knows that java and Linux is the same banana as android. Android is a java wrapper nothing more. The thing with android was the support of googles billions to push through the propaganda machine. The media whores cost money. Google and WS provided that.

Jerry Hildenbrand says:

Amazed at how Verizon fanboy-ism trumps Android fanboy-ism. While Rene may not have the final scenario 100% correct, his idea is right. Verizon wants to bastardize Android into something of their own, with their own services, their own applications market, and their own branding.
And that's fine. Welcome to open source. Use your wallet, and your mind, to buy what you like. Personally, I'm waiting for Rene to release TiPdroid v 1.0 for the N1 :)

James says:

No chance. Verizon has no software experience - Windows Mobile 8, iOS 7, Android 6 and Duke Nuke Em Forever would be released before Verizon's fork would be out of development.

Rene Ritchie says:

For the record, @gbhill is legit terrific.

frog says:

This is one if the major reasons to support Apples iPhone in my opinion. They are the only guys providing an alternative to the locked down garbage the carriers want to control. They view Android as a short term solution to compete with iPhone, even Samsung and Motorola have openly admitted that.

Dantv says:

Verizon sucks! Look for the iPhone on Sprint and T-Mobile soon.

Menno says:

From what I understand, the aGPS api's are so they can link into VZnav instead of linking into Google maps or something else.
Again, I'm not saying that your idea is impossible, but I can't see them getting away with it.
And like @gbhil said, those of us on Verizon who want actual android will vote with our wallet.

gquaglia says:

None of what you have said surprises me. Verizon was, is and will continue to be scumbags. I will never be a Verizon customer, EVER!!

iDavey says:

Glad I have T-Mobile and Nexus One.
I worry about nothing like the Apple's control or the carrier's control.
Feels nice to be in the driver's seat =]

Li says:

This is the most asinine post I have read in a while. You must be cowering in fear of Android\Verizon to write such a FUD based drivel. This article has so much Fear mongering and illogical reasoning that it would make Glen Beck proud!

(Copy of) Dev says:

No, you are using "fork" incorrectly, intentionally or not. There are no "degrees" of a fork. A "fork," by definition, is a split in the codebase, whereby the forker maintains control over a completely independent set of code. Something is either forked, or it is not. HTC adding a skin is not a fork. Verizon adding GPS services is not a fork. Android has some legitimate issues, but casually throwing around words without understanding their meaning (or worse, as a means to mislead intentionally, which I do not think you are trying here) is not the way to raise the level of discussion.

Revrant says:

"platform into a bootloader-locked, Bing-locked, hacker-hostile bloatware-crusted bag of hurt."
Say now, you leave iOS 4 alone, mister, that's hurtful language.