updated 10:55 pm EDT, Wed April 6, 2011
Rubin rejects Android fragmentation lockdown claim
Google VP of Engineering and Android lead Andy Rubin in a post late Wednesday vocally denied claims that his company was cracking down on fragmentation in the mobile OS. He insisted Google didn't "believe in a 'one size fits all' solution" and that phone or tablet designers were still free to customize much of the OS. Hardware partners thought of quality and consistency as "top priorities" and, supposedly, anti-fragmentation policies had been in place since the Open Handset Alliance and Android were kicked off in 2007.
Rubin also specifically but paradoxically tackled rumors of standardizing the platform and hardware. Under the allegations, it would reduce the amount of changes developers could make and would argue for a preferred ARM design. Both were untrue, the VP wrote.
"Our approach remains unchanged: there are no lock-downs or restrictions against customizing UIs," he said. "There are not, and never have been, any efforts to standardize the platform on any single chipset architecture."
On withholding source code, the executive was adamant it simply wasn't ready. It would be open-sourced once it ran on phones, he said, implying that it would be Ice Cream and not Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) that would be accessible to developers.
The claims put to rest any direct accusations but also sidestep certain conflicts. Fragmentation under the policies in question has been a major issue, with some companies not shipping updates for months or cancelling them entirely. Only Google's own Nexus phones, the two running completely pure versions of Android, have consistently received updates and new official apps at the same time as they were made available.
Rubin also sidestepped the questions of special deals and other exclusive access. Companies like HTC have complained that LG, Motorola, and Samsung have received special support. The move to withhold source has punished smaller hardware builders and, as implied by Google, may have been a deliberate quality control measure. It has been worried that phone makers would use Android 3.0 prematurely on devices it's not made for, but the move appears to be a reaction to a problem with many small companies using Android 2.x for tablets and creating a poor reputation before the official solution arrived. Apple's success in tablets has been credited in part to a truly optimized experience where even the Samsung Galaxy Tab has many phone-like interface cues.
Suspicions of a required homogenization for Android grew when it became clear that virtually every Android 3.0 tablet had the same NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor and had little to no customization. Google still hasn't explained this but may have simply rushed the OS to beat the iPad.
It further remains untrue that developers have complete freedom to customize the OS. Some very deep parts of the core Android platform are still considered off-limits. Much of the OS is changeable, but Google demands "basic compatibility requirements" and will only give full cooperation for companies that agree to certain conditions for the experience and for branding.