Google tightens leash on Android due to fragmentation concerns

Darren Allan

April 1, 2011

One of Android’s greatest strengths is its open source nature, but it seems that Google is also worried that this openness may be a weakness on some levels.

Just last week it was announced that Honeycomb wouldn’t be laid bare on the table any time soon, with Google preferring to keep this latest version of the OS to itself, for fear that devs might jam it onto smartphones any-which-way, and make it look bad as a result.

Honeycomb (Android 3.0) has been produced for a larger screen tablet experience, and needs further design tweaking before it would transfer well onto a smaller handset.

And now comes the news, courtesy of a Businessweek article, that Google wants to further supervise what happens with Android on mobiles.

Henceforth, it seems that any tweaking to the Android software by manufacturers or networks will need to be approved by Andy Rubin at Google.

This is the word from “key companies in the Android ecosystem”, including LG, Toshiba, Samsung, and Facebook (which is apparently looking at an Android phone, despite previous denials that the social network would consider anything of the sort).

The reason for this is that Google is worried about the increasing fragmentation of Android, something Apple has pointed out as a negative in the past. Different handsets shift onto different versions of the OS as and when the UIs bolted on top of them are refined, which can take some time.

And this can lead to a situation where some companies get spectacularly behind (*cough*, Sony Ericsson) the curve, others lag somewhat, some are up to date, and so forth. All this can potentially confuse and/or annoy users.

So Google now wants to oversee and approve changes being made to Android in order to help keep things running more smoothly.

Or that’s the theory, but there are ominous undertones here. Businessweek notes that Google apparently tried to hold up a Verizon device because it used Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

It isn’t as if Google is suddenly making Android a closed system – the situation with Honeycomb is a temporary one, and it will eventually be released to developers.

But the search company is definitely tightening things up by several notches, and many are belly-aching about the new state of affairs. Google would do well to remember that the blazing success of Android has been down to its open nature.


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