Reality Catches Up to Android

Hypocrite (noun): “a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statement belie his or her public statements.”

John Gruber said yesterday about Google executives deciding that changes to the Android operating system need approval first, “Andy Rubin, Vic Gundotra, Eric Schmidt: shameless, lying hypocrites, all of them.”

I say: pretty strong words. If we remove a couple of words from the definition then Gruber is right: Google has been hypocritical. Justin Williams called it “bait-and-switch” because of all the keynotes and marketing campaigns and ideals put forth by Google toward openness of the OS. And that is true. Google did take a very strong stance that the Android operating system is open, which was a publicly approved attitude per the definition, and is now doing an about face and closing it off.

This is a huge change for Google and one I applaud. The old model was just not tenable. No one — and I mean no one except carriers and those manipulating the OS for their nefarious gains — liked what was happening to Android. As developers it was too many minute changes on too many platforms. It wasn’t one Android, it was 5000 of them: Verizon’s Android, AT&T’s Android, HTC’s Android, Motorola’s Android, Samsung’s Android, etc. And as developers we had to pick and choose which Android we would support.

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If we look deeper into the meaning of hypocrite, though, the word “public” and “private” are prominently included. By definition, to be a hypocrite, you have to lead one life publicly and a different life privately. And Google hasn’t done that.

Android has been open both publicly and privately — until now. And now Android is closing the platform. The first hints came last week when Google decided not to open Honeycomb (Android 3.0). But it is this news, the news that Google will require Android licensees to approve their changes with the company, that moves the company decidedly more closed.

Because their openness was both public and private and their more closed stance is the same, Google has not been hypocritical. Learning and adjusting and changing to the market is reality.

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To me, though, this leaves as many questions as it answers.

Why did Google do it? Did they do it because some licensees and n0n-licensees (such as RIM and Amazon) are using Android’s openness against Google? Or did Google do this because they too are sick of the spyware, sick of the fragmentation, concerned about the impact on the brand “Android” and on the developer community?

What does Android’s new “closeness” mean for the current licensees? Motorola is rumored to be working on their own OS. Samsung has one already. What does HTC decide to do? Will this just fracture the market further and mean new operating systems when we were finally seeing consolidation?

How will developers react? Does this make us more likely to write apps for Android? Will the Android unit numbers stay as high as they are or will this cause a shift in focus to Windows Phone 7, iOS and RIM?

But most importantly I want to know where the line between closed and open is for Google? Does the company become more transparent in the way it works with licensees? Are developers clued into the areas where third-parties can change the OS and where they can’t? How closed is closed?