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Google's iron grip on Android: Control of open source by all means



Faced with Google's $ 5 billion cartel decision this week, we've noticed some classic social media Ars story. Google's methods of controlling the open source Android code and discouraging Android forks are just the kind of behavior that the EU has a problem with, and many of the techniques described in this 2013 article are still used today.

The idea of ​​a sequel to this piece has come a few times, but Google's Android strategy of an open source base paired with key proprietary apps and services has not really changed in the last five or so years. Updates have been made to Google's proprietary apps, which are different from the screenshots in this article. However, the basic strategy described here is still very relevant. In light of recent developments in the EU, we are restoring this story for the weekend. It first ran on October 20, 201

3 and seems largely unchanged – but we've added a few "In 2018" updates wherever they've felt particularly relevant.

Six years ago, in November 2007, the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) was unveiled. The original iPhone came out only a few months earlier, capturing the imagination of people and ushering in the era of the modern smartphone. While Google was an app partner for the original iPhone, it was able to see what the future of unaudited iPhone competition would look like. Vic Gundotra recalled Andy Rubin's initial sound for Android:

He argued that if Google did not act, we would face a draconian future, a future in which a man, a company, a device, a carrier would be our only Choice would be

Google feared that Apple would eventually rule the mobile sector. So in order to help in the fight against the iPhone, when Google still had no phone, Android was launched as an open-source project.

At this time, Google had nothing, so no adoption – no market share – was welcome. Google chose to distribute Android for free and use it as a Trojan for Google services. It was thought that if Google's search was locked out of the iPhone one day, people would stop using Google Search on the desktop. Android was the "moat" around the Google search "lock" – it would exist to protect Google's online real estate in the mobile world.

  Androids rapid market share
Enlarge / Android's rapid market share [19659008] Today, things are a bit different. Android went from zero percent of the smartphone market to nearly 80 percent of it. Android may have won the smartphone wars, but "Android winners" and "Google winners" are not necessarily the same. Since Android is open source, it does not really belong to Google. Anyone can take it, clone the source and create his own fork or alternate version.

As we've seen with the battles of Windows Phone and Blackberry 10, app selection is all in the mobile market and Android's massive install base means it has a lot of apps. If a company abandons Android, the operating system is already compatible with millions of apps. A business just has to create its own app store and upload everything. Theoretically, you would have a non-Google OS almost overnight with a ton of apps. If a company other than Google could find a way to make Android better than it is now, it could build a serious competitor and potentially threaten Google's smartphone dominance. This is the biggest threat to Google's current position: a successful, alternative Android distribution.

And a few companies are in separating Google and Android. The most successful and well-known alternative version of Android is Amazon Kindle Fire. Amazon takes AOSP, skipping all the usual Google add-ons and offering its own app store, content stores, browser, cloud storage and email. The entire country of China is also skipping the Google portion of Android. Most Google services are blocked. Therefore, there is only one alternative version. In both cases, Google's Android code is used, and he gets nothing for it.

It's easy to give away something when you're in last place with zero market share right where Android started. When you come first, it's a bit harder to be so open and inviting. Android has turned itself from the thing that protects Google into something worth protecting. Mobile is the future of the Internet, and controlling the world's largest mobile platform has many benefits. At this point, it's too hard to stuff the open-source mind back into the bottle, raising the question: how do you control an open-source project?

Google has always had some protection against alternative versions of Android. What many refer to as "Android" falls into two categories : the open parts of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which are the foundation of Android, and the closed source parts, all of which are from Google. Branded apps. While Google will never go all the way and shut down Android completely, the company seems to be doing everything it can to take advantage of the existing open source project. And the main method of the company is to bring more and more apps under the closed source code "Google".

Closed source creep

There were always closed Google Apps. Originally the group consisted mainly of customers for Google's online services such as Gmail, Maps, Talk and YouTube. When Android had no market share, Google was content to just keep those apps and build the rest of Android as an open source project. However, as Android has become a mobile powerhouse, Google has decided that it needs more control over public source code.

For some of these apps, there might still be an AOSP equivalent, but when the proprietary Google version was launched, the AOSP version is usually outdated. Less open source code means more work for Google's competitors. While you can not kill an open source app, you can convert it to Abandonware by moving future development into a closed source app. When Google restarts an app or publishes a new piece of Android in the Play Store, it is often a sign that the source has been closed and the AOSP version is dead.

Search

We start with the app search, this is a great example of what happens when Google duplicates the AOSP functionality.

In August 2010 Google launched language action. Thus, the company has introduced the "Google Search" in the (then) Android Market. These were the days of Froyo. The picture above shows the latest version of AOSP Search and Google Search on Android 4.3. As you can see, the AOSP search is still stuck in the days of Froyo (Android 2.2). After Google started the closed source app, it immediately released the open source version. The Google version offers a language, audio, text-to-speech, and answering service, and includes Google Now, the company's predictive help feature. The AOSP version can perform web and local searches and … that's it.


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