The Closed Future Of Android.

  • April 2, 2011 10:03 pm

Since late 2008, Android has been the anti-Apple to the smartphone world. Where Apple restricts, Android creates opportunities. But that may not always be the case if cellular carriers, hardware manufacturers, and now Google have their way…

Business is driven by money. That’s just how it goes. But when consumers continuously get the shaft, something needs to change. Currently, Android (and all mobile operating systems as a whole) face three very big problems:

  1. Cellular carriers double and tripple charging for data
  2. Hardware manufacturers purposely locking down phones in attempts to thwart hacking/rooting
  3. Google placing restrictions on the Android platform

Cellular Providers Care About Your Money — Not About Your “Experience”

Everyone knows that there isn’t a single, honest cellular carrier that actually cares about you. They are there for money and money alone. They could care less about the latest new social service, hottest app, or how they affect your interaction with such services. Time and time again consumers have gotten the shaft in regards to cellular plans & pricing while carriers simultaneously tout exciting new features and services that are increasingly priced outside of reality.

In the modern smartphone age, data is king. And as more and more people hop on the data-loving train, carriers are doing the exact opposite of what they should be doing. Instead of increasing data allotment to cope with the increasing move to online services, they are reducing data allotment and increasing costs — potentially killing innovation in the process.

It doesn’t make sense to impose lower data caps, double and tripple charge for data (tethering/hotspot “add-on packages”), and increase marketing for new technologies such as video calling and streaming. And because Android is as open as it is, carriers along with consumers have all kinds of options at their disposal to allow/disallow features and services.

Hardware Manufacturers Don’t Want To Upgrade Your Phone

Hardware manufacturers don’t want you to mess with “your” hardware. They want you to buy one and then replace it when you’re not happy/want something newer. To hardware manufacturers, software updates are a necessary evil that they would more readily ignore than support. Luckily the majority of smartphone manufacturers provide at least basic updates, though some are obviously better than others (ie: HTC > Samsung).

Unfortunately, one of the most hackable/open/consumer friendly smartphone manufacturers has begun imposing new, unnecessary restrictions on their phones. HTC has long been seen as one of the most customizable/hackable/pro-consumer smartphone manufacturers for their continued support of developer communities. Hell, an entire dev community (XDA-Developers) has prospered because of them. But in recent weeks, news has begun trickling out that new HTC Android phones are coming with locked kernels and bootloaders that require official signatures to even boot the phone — a far cry from their open past.

Why would HTC do this? It isn’t just because they don’t want you prolonging the life of your phone. The carriers also hate you messing with your phone as it allows you the consumer to add back features carriers have removed and replaced with their own paid options as well as circumvent their ridiculous add-on fees. To that effect, it appears that hardware manufacturers and carriers are beginning to come together not for the greater good of consumers, but to wring even more money from us.

Again, Android (and smartphones in general) are under attack.

Google Wants To Be More Like Apple/iOS

This last point obviously won’t make some anti-Apple people happy, but it’s the truth. Over the last week it’s become known that Google is actively squeezing hardware manufacturers and cellular carriers to stop meddling too deeply with the core of Android and take a more hands off approach similar to AT&T’s (and now Verizon’s) approach with the iPhone. Google wants the dreaded “F-word” — fragmentation — to stop being associated with Android. Fragmentation has happened because Android is about as open as mobile operating system can get. While that’s great for all kinds of innovative services and apps, it’s terrible for a consistant experience across phones and carriers — one reason why Apple has been enjoying so much success with the iOS platform. It is all about a cohesive and consistant user experience.

With Google placing restrictions on what carriers can add/remove (ie: Verizon replacing Google Search with Microsoft’s Bing) as well as loosely setting hardware requirements, they hope to make Android a little more like iOS in the consistency/cohesive department while still retaining many of the open roots that got Android to 30% market share in a few short years.

Of course, the most newsworthy topic regarding Google’s new clamp down on Android isn’t necessarily what they’re dictating can or cannot be allowed, but what they’re doing to those who don’t comply. It has been reported by various mainstream publications that Google is purposely delaying new Android hardware for carriers and manufacturers who tweak the Android OS more than Google now wants them. This has huge implications in that it severely undermines the entire “open” nature of Android. Needless to say, the coming weeks and months will be worth following to see how this new development runs course.

The Future

The future of Android is bright. Android phones are continuously pushing the envelope in terms of specs. Mobile hardware is getting more powerful, smaller, and sophisticated thereby allowing us to live out all kinds of exciting new experiences in our lives. At the same time, Android’s future isn’t without stormy seas. While Android brings consumers choice not only to choose a platform or device that suits them but to save money, it also brings those looking to take advantage of us choice as well.

In regards to Android, the so called “open” OS of the mobile world is in a tough place. To continue attracting anti-closed system individuals, they need to provide choices and freedoms. Though in that quest for openness, the pursuit of a centralized and consistant experience cannot be ignored either. For if Android is changed so much that it isn’t recognizable (or usable), we as consumers have lost yet again.

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Gadget lover, smartphone collector, and beer connoisseur. I've been writing about gadgets for three years now and loving every minute of it. Outside of the digital landscape, I enjoy being active outdoors. I'm always up for a good conversation, so feel free to drop me a line!

  • Ali Mostofi

    Ever since the outset of the internet, Iranians have tried other media to get arouns the government controlled press in Iran. When Blogging started the Iranians became the world largest community of Bloggers, outside the English speaking world, with the Persian language. Say Persian not Farsi as in English it is corresct to say Persian. Well Android system does not handle Persian appropriately. Others like Blackberry and Apple do. Old Windows and Symbian do, but new ones don’t. Networking is the most important element in the people’s need for a peaceful non-violent quest for change. Arabic and Hebrew can be read in Android, but not Persian. Conspiracy theorists are having a field day. The print in Android is backwards and disjointed. Why can’t 200 million people have access to their own language in eleven countries of South West Asia? And the irony of it all is that the chief engineer at Google is an Iranian derivative. Sorry for the moan, but it is complicated and important.