updated 10:20 am EDT, Thu March 31, 2011
Google adding Android non-fragment clauses
Google's attempts to tighten control of Android got significantly more detail Monday with leaks from executives at its partners. The company has reportedly been putting tougher conditions on the "non-fragmentation clauses" it has to limit what OEMs can do to change the OS. Facebook, which is reportedly still working on its own version of Android despite denials, was reportedly upset that its arch-rival Google had to oversee its code, Bloomberg said.
Two sources also alleged that Google is now punishing Verizon for its decision to force the use of Bing on some Android phones, like the Samsung Fascinate. It's allegedly been using delay tactics for the hardware both as retaliation against Microsoft and to get phones with the stock Google search launching first.
These and Google's increasing tendency to favor certain companies over others for early hardware support have prompted complaints to the US Department of Justice for possibly anti-competitive moves. It's not clear if the agency has launched a formal investigation.
Google is known to often pick certain hardware makers as platform highlights and this year created a large amount of friction with Android 3.0. The Motorola Xoom was the reference design and shipped first, but tablets based on the same NVIDIA Tegra 2 chip and stock OS, like the LG Optimus Pad and Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, are shipping soon afterwards. HTC at the same moment it unveiled the Flyer complained that Google hadn't given timely access.
Google has said it was withholding source code due to development shortcuts and has said it already had the anti-fragmentation clauses. However, as it hinted in explaining the source code, it's now believed the search firm is trying to contain the rabid fragmentation and poor-quality devices that have defined some parts of the market.
Many companies have often insisted on custom interfaces as ways of arbitrarily differentiating their Android hardware. The process has little positive effect for users and often ends up delaying upgrades by months where only 'pure' Google phones like the Nexus One and Nexus S get new versions in a timely manner. Google's lack of controls also meant that Samsung, and many ultra-budget hardware makers, ended up putting Android 2.2 or earlier on tablets despite a lack of optimization. The decision not only led to the Galaxy Tab and other tablets being orphaned from future upgrades but gave Android tablets a reputation for being cheap or poorly integrated.
The lack of Android 3.0 source, while meant for quality, conveniently prevents many of the low-end and clone manufacturers from properly implementing Android 3.0, including on phones and other devices that weren't meant to use it.
Google has long tried to insist it's open with Android and has tried to lord it over Apple, casting the iPhone as an oppressive platform. However, Google has been selective even in the past, including only giving out source code for certain versions and blocking certain kinds of changes. The new policies suggest the company is no longer happy with the degree of fragmentation and is adopting a partly Apple-like policy, even if it still has more flexibility.