Being open could close the door on Android

Android Open Source

While I may recommend the iPhone to the majority of people who ask, Android is still my mobile operating system of choice. Google has created a truly amazing and innovative platform, and because it is open-source anyone can tweak it and customize it. Even devices that weren’t meant for Android, such as my HP TouchPad, can run the mobile OS beautifully thanks to dedicated third-party developers. As I spend more and more time with an iPhone, however, I realize that my love for open-source is slowly beginning to fade. While I used to believe open-source would play a huge role in pushing Android ahead of the competition, which it did, I now believe it may end up being the thing that kills it.

With the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, Google revamped Android, making it prettier and more user-friendly. If you were to ask me what the best Android smartphone is, I would confidently state “the Galaxy Nexus.” While the handset has its flaws — for example, the camera is dreadful compared to the iPhone 4S and HTC One X — it is one of the very few smartphones that runs an unskinned version of Android, not to mention the latest version of Google’s Android software. Skins are the reason 90% of Android devices aren’t running Ice Cream Sandwich.

I understand that vendors need to distinguish their devices from the competition, but forcing customers to use a clunky, battery-wasting skin is not the answer. I wouldn’t be so against Android skins if the manufacturers allowed the average user to remove them completely, and I mean without the need to root a device. I praise HTC and Samsung for making their devices developer friendly, but it would be great for them to take things a step further and give users the option of going skinless without voiding warranties.

The days of Android may be limited when you can walk into your local Kohls or Sears store and buy an “Android tablet” for between $25 and $150. These no-name tablets, that in many cases run something crazy like Android 2.2, are killing Android brand and further confusing consumers. I am a big advocate of buyer beware and I always suggest that people do extensive research before buying anything, but this might be solved with a more closed approach to the Android operating system.

If Google were to license Android to manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC, LG and Sony, little would change where the end user is concerned, but it would put an end to what I call “craplets” — off-brand, no-name, crappy tablets.

Lastly, if Android can survive the dangers of being open-source, can survive the sale of “craplets,” and doesn’t get skinned to death by vendors, there is another matter at hand — the carriers. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint — they all do it, some more than others — pre-install apps on their devices. This “bloatware” often cannot be uninstalled and is found on just about every Android device, including my “pure Google” Galaxy Nexus.

To make matters worse, carriers and vendors sometimes enter into exclusive partnerships to offer services on certain devices. The latest example is Flipboard for Android exclusively for the Galaxy S III, and although it was eventually pulled from the device and made available for all, leaving a large portion of a carrier’s user base in the dark could end up coming back to haunt them.

Another and perhaps the worse case was when Verizon partnered with Microsoft and replaced numerous Google services with Bing as the default option. Yes, Bing was forced upon numerous Android users.

Google might be well-served to follow in Apple’s footsteps to a degree, at least, and take more control. Whether or not that means closing Android off to an extent, something must be done. The company might tell the carriers to back off with the bloatware and exclusives as well, but rumors of multiple vendors selling Nexus devices directly to end users — which Google has been considering for quite some time, as BGR reported last year — likely isn’t the answer.

When discussing the matter publicly, Google measures Android’s success in daily activations. The most recent figure sits at a sky-high 850,000. While that remarkable stat might be the best way for an advertising company to measure its success, Research In Motion and Nokia can both attest to the fact that it takes more than volume to stay on top in the mobile business.

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