The man behind Android, Google’s Andy Rubin, has taken to one of his company’s blogs to “attempt to set the record straight” as it pertains to “a lot of misinformation in the press about Android and Google’s role in supporting the ecosystem.”
The so-called misinformation that Rubin is believed to be addressing comes from a March 30th article on Businessweek.com arguing that Google “gives chip and device makers that abide by its rules a head start in bringing Android products to market,” according to Businessweek’s sources.
The crux of Businessweek’s argument is that even though Google’s Android mobile operating system has always been positioned as an “open” platform—meaning that device makers and wireless companies are free to tweak the stock Android interface and add their own programs—this openness has led to fragmentation of the platform, and Google’s just now aiming to crack down on Android fragmentation.
For example, when it comes to the Android interface, you’ll often have a markedly different experience from each big-name device manufacturer. Samsung has its own “TouchWiz” interface, HTC uses its “Sense” interface, and Motorola has its “MotoBlur” interface, to name a few. Carriers get involved, too, with Verizon replacing the stock Google search on some Android devices with Microsoft’s Bing search engine.
When Google comes out with an updated version of the Android software, it can take months for these companies and carriers to update their devices because they need to be sure that their customized interfaces will play nicely with Android’s new features. There are also theories that carriers may hold updates back on purpose to entice people to upgrade to newer phones with the updated software preloaded on them.
So that’s fragmentation in a nutshell. It’s not really good for consumers or Google, though device makers would likely argue that their “enhanced” interfaces provide better experiences for users. Most people would rather have the newest Android software and features, though, and Google would certainly like to get the newest versions of its software out quickly.
As such, Google has taken to partnering with certain manufacturers to build showcase devices running the stock Android interface—no changes, no tweaks, just pure Android. HTC built the Nexus One phone, Samsung built the Nexus S and, most recently, Motorola built the Xoom tablet.