From the start, Google’s Android operating system was touted as being ‘open.’ Standing in stark contrast to iOS, that mobile sanctuary behind Apple’s walled garden, Android held the promise of freedom, choice for the user, and a device that is totally open to the whims of the device owner. Well, the reality of Android’s open nature is becoming clearer and carrier exploitation seems to be settling in.
First of all, what does ‘open’ mean anyway? Open can mean different things to different people. From my perspective, an open OS carries with it some of the same aspects that I’ve come to expect from my desktop counterparts, the PC and Mac. On those machines, I can download any software I find on the internet and install it. Whether or not I ‘should’ install that software is my decision. As well, if I don’t like some of the software that came with my Mac, let’s say the default text editor, well, I can just delete it and replace it with something better. I’m ‘open’ to install and remove what I want on my machine, in other words.
The mobile device is a different animal. Apple, for instance, won’t allow me to install whatever app I want. The only way to do that is to jail-break the iPhone. I wrote about this topic in an earlier blog post, The flexibility of an Android compared to an iPhone. On the Android, I’m allowed to install apps from sources outside of the Android Market. To do so, I must enable ‘Allow installation of non-Market applications’ in my Android Settings. Once I’ve enabled that setting, apps that I find on non-Market sites such as Handango, FreeFunFiles, and Mobihand are mine for the downloading.
So, surely this means that my Droid 2 is open? While I can certainly install apps of my choosing, it’s the other half of the equation that reveals the Android platform’s closed nature.
On my Droid 2, Verizon decided to install a few applications. Known among many as crap-ware, Blockbuster and a game called NFS Shift have established permanent residence on my device. I cannot remove these applications. Verizon has locked down these apps. Fortunately, I installed an application called LauncherPro which allows me to ‘hide’ these apps so that I never have to see them. However, they still reside on my phone, taking up valuable space. This violates my 2nd rule of ‘open’, being able to remove an application from my machine or device.
In other news, there are a few topics regarding the ‘open’ nature of the Android OS that are percolating as well. I’m keeping an eye on their development and will report more here. In a ‘complaint and jury demand’ filed by Skyhook Wireless against Google, Skyhook alleges that Google, ‘is effectively creating a closed system with respect to location positioning.’ And Verizon’s decision to force the Bing search engine on Samsung Galaxy S owners is far from what I would consider ‘open.’