Android vs iOS 2010: Open Source Cuts Both Ways

Posted by Zealot on Sep 26, 2010

closeThis post was published 3 years 6 months 20 days ago which may make its actuality or expire date not be valid anymore. This site is not responsible for any misunderstanding.

apple androidA year ago, things seemed so much clearer regarding mobile operating systems. Things seemed very black and white to me then. Apple was clearly in the wrong, autocratically locking down its mobile OS and hardware in order to control every aspect of the user experience. The apps you installed on your iPhone had to be approved by Apple and even the look and feel of your own handset was under their control, right down to the wallpaper (or lack thereof). Apple was clearly saying that the iPhone was just a purchased instrument to access software which still belonged to them, much as you may buy a television, but the content belongs to HBO. That was just wrong, bordering on eevvviillllll.

On the other side, Android was the inheritor of Windows Mobile’s “open” methodology. In fact, the fact that Android was Open Source software took it one step further into user empowerment since the OS was free, from Source Code and SDK on up. Each user had full freedom to hack, tweak and customize the software on phones they bought, each carrier and vendor could roll out whatever software they wished on the phones they sold. Power users could dig down to the registry level if need be to make the phone their own. The world of applications was just as wide open as the OS, and if you should happen to install an app that was actually a virus, or your latest tweak bricked your phone…that was your own lookout, sailor. Natural selection. Devil take the hindmost. Just the way it should be.

A year ago I knew that Android had the right idea, while I was certain that Apple was on the wrong path…now, I am not so sure anymore.

Over the last year Android has become the darling of most carriers. As such, they have been loading it on their flagship phones but burdening it with all of their various GUI “enhancements”, branded crapwear, “free limited time demos” and proprietary software. Google apparently doesn’t much care what anyone actually does with the current version of Android, as they are always looking two versions down the road. Many carriers are still rolling out Android 2.2 but Google could care less about old news and is busy with Android 3.0 and 3.5. They have to be since the Android releases are coming out several a year at this point, there is no time to worry about what you have already released. Like many companies these days, Google is mainly concerned about the software and customers in their future not their present. Support just ain’t sexy baby, while getting up in front of fanbois and talking about exciting features just around the corner is hawt, hawt, hawt.

Apple, meanwhile, has been loosening up a bit despite itself. iOS has been allowing users more freedom, bringing some of the features jailbreakers have been longing for into the authorized release while easing the restriction on the App Store. More applications are being approved, more quickly then a year ago. Though I don’t always agree with their reasons for rejecting many apps, they are slowly becoming more consistent about it at least…and there is no question that the App Store has become very easy and pleasant to use.At the same time, Apple’s choice to limit their software to their own handful of devices is suddenly looking smarter and smarter. Apple’s refusal to make their software available to third parties nearly killed the early Macintosh, but seems to be the saving grace of the iPhone. This way, no one else can screw it up, only Apple can. Even as Android software and hardware begins to outclass the iPhone in many ways, with iOS you KNOW what you are getting, and how to get it easily and securely. With Android? Not so much yet.

I think it is indicative that the Android Market, which was designed to be for the Android OS what the App Store is for iOS, the place you go for all your software needs, is being marginalized by the carriers and vendors. Each major player is creating their own Android App stores and locking their phones into it (and out of the Android Market)…and Google is letting them. Google doesn’t care because, DUDE, Android 3.5 will be frickin’ AWESOME…just ask them.

I still cannot consider myself an Apple fan or buy into the wisdom of a totally locked down device, and I am still pulling for the open universe that Android promised to be even while I am a bit horrified by how brightly it is burning while Google fiddles.

However, I am feeling more and more that some kind of compromise needs to be found..a happy median. Open Source has many good points, but without more control they are often lost or overshadowed. What we need is an open, accessible OS that is protected, so that the carriers and vendors can’t distort it completely. I guess I am learning that Open and Closed may just be two sides of the same blade.

Zealot (839 Posts) - Website | Twitter | Facebook


By day a department manager and writer for a major network device vendor...by night Zealot stalks the mean magnetic streets, striking fear into the hearts of bandwidth abusers and theme park mascots. Zealot has been involved with mobile devices for more than a decade now, starting off with dumb phones, moving to PDAs and then to smartphones, notebooks and netbooks with the odd PMP thrown in. Most of his mobile time currently is spent on a Treo Pro, Zune HD, Thinkpad T61, HP Mini 311, iPod Touch 3G, iPad 16G or a Hackintoshed Compaq Mini 704. He proudly groks the Geek community and considers himself a Neo Maxi Zune Dweebie (thanks Wil Wheaton!).

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  • http://twitter.com/paul_onxo/status/25601111270 paul_onxo

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  • kovos

    “Open Source has many good points, but without more control they are often lost or overshadowed. What we need is an open, accessible OS that is protected, so that the carriers and vendors can’t distort it completely.”

    Why should all Android phones be the same? Why should there be one Android experience?
    Some manufacturers create good Android some create crappy Androids. Some create open Androids some create closed Android.
    What's wrong with that? Users got the choice to buy the crapware Android for 50$ or the good one for 200$. Why force them to take what Google thinks is best for them. That just the Apple way.

  • http://afrolatinocomputing.blogspot.com Sam Hobson

    I should think that the carrier bloatware issue should only plague the non hacking users. After all, nearly every if not all Android devices have been rooted up to this point, and if so, one could easily flash a new rom that is free of carrier bloatware. The same could be said about jailbreaking an iPhone, it makes it a bit more open.

  • http://bardhaven.wordpress.com Zealot

    True, but how many mainstream users know to root their phone, or would have the nerve to flash the ROM (assuming they knew where to get the ROM and how to do it, and that they even can)?

    Most mainstream assume all Android phones are alike,and take the one that looks coolest that is sold by their carrier…and those are the users Google is letting down.

  • http://bardhaven.wordpress.com Zealot

    Most mainstream users don't know the difference between the crapware and the good stuff, and even if they did, they would still take what their carrier offers 9 times out of 10. It is up to Google to limit the crapware for the good of the consumer.

    I don't feel that Google should lock Android down the way that Apple does the iPhone, but as I say, they need to PROTECT IT. For one thing, they should make Android Market access mandatory for all carriers, and work to get all carriers to support the side loading of Apps as well. No one wants Google (I trust them even less than I do Apple, as a company) to dictate everything, but a few simple guidelines would be nice.

  • http://afrolatinocomputing.blogspot.com Sam Hobson

    That's true. I would figure since most mainstream users know how to jailbreak an iPhone (at least where I live), most would also know how to root an Android. But then, rooting and flashing are not as simple as jailbreaking, so maybe I was wrong.

    Google does need to straighten out though. I get looking at the long run, but completely forgetting and abandoning the current is a huge mistake.

  • http://twitter.com/uksuperstore/status/25609735437 Charles

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  • Milind

    Personally I'm okay with crapware loaded on the phone if I get a better deal on the phone and I can uninstall it without having to root it. I also don't have a problem with multiple markets on the phone as long as I also get the Android Market. If I can't do both, I simply won't buy the phone. Just like I won't buy the Fascinate from Verizon, even though I am perfectly capable of rooting an installing a new ROM.

    I don't have a problem with custom ROMs either. I like both HTC Sense and the TouchWiz on my Vibrant. Nobody's cornered the market on good ideas.

    The real problem in my opinion is phones shipped with old OS versions and updating them either slowly or never. This is where Google can step in. If a phone is to receive the Google Approved stamp, then the phone should always ship with an OS version no earlier than the latest version and it needs to be updated to the latest version in 2 months. In the meanwhile, Google should make its OS available to be run on every phone if the customer chooses to use the stock OS. Adda ROM Manager type app and this way, it doesn't make any difference what carriers or vendors do, any (non geek) user could replace it with the latest OS.

    I'm with Google that Open means open for anyone to change – Phone manufacturers, Carriers, Google and consumers. If Google does direct installs of the stock OS, using the device drivers that come with the phone, both the fragmentation and the customization problem will be solved.

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  • http://sachendra.wordpress.com Sachendra Yadav

    Android needs to fix fragmentation otherwise it'll end up like Linux instead of Windows

  • http://twitter.com/maxkatz/status/25695637661 Max Katz

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  • http://www.svpocketpc.com Pony99CA

    Personally I'm okay with crapware loaded on the phone if I get a better deal on the phone and I can uninstall it without having to root it.

    I agree in principle. I don't even care if I can uninstall it, as long as I can prevent it from running at startup. Who knows? I may actually want that stuff at some point.

    Unfortunately, I've read that Android doesn't work like that. The crapware runs at startup and, if you kill it with a task manager, it automatically restarts. For example, read Ed Bott's Why I Dumped My Droid where it seems the Droid X always runs Skype even if you don't use Skype. That's just ridiculous.

    If a phone is to receive the Google Approved stamp, then the phone should always ship with an OS version no earlier than the latest version and it needs to be updated to the latest version in 2 months.

    There are at least two problems with that.

    First, not every Android phone sold has to be Google approved. My understanding is that there are three licenses — fully open source (anything goes with no Google apps or branding), Google Apps (you license the apps from Google) and the Google Phone (Google's logo goes on it). Only the latter really fits what you're talking about.

    Second, it's not realistic. Phone OEMs start planning a phone I would guess at least one year before it's released (remember, the phone needs FCC and carrier approval). So if Google releases a new OS in that time, your proposal would require the OEM to delay their phone to add the new OS and then test it again. How many businesses would be willing to do that?

    Also, having to update the phone within two months of a new OS release means that the OEM would have to stop doing other projects to devote time to making the OS available for already-sold phones. While customers might like that, how many releases of a new OS should a phone get?

    I actually wrote an editorial about that several years ago (A Suggested Upgrade Policy) and felt that the answer was “one”. Of course, that was when OS upgrades required ROM flashes, so maybe I'd be willing to bump that up to “two”. Any more and, as a business, I'd be worried that I wouldn't be able to make money (especially if the OS upgrades are free).

    Finally, I don't know how much approval carriers have over Android updates. If they have any at all, they could also be a blocking factor. Apple may have been able to browbeat AT&T into bending its rules, but I'm not sure that the other OEMs have that kind of clout.

    Steve

  • http://www.svpocketpc.com Pony99CA

    Google could care less about old news and is busy with Android 3.0 and 3.5.

    Grammar Nazi factoid of the day. “Could care less” is incorrect; it means there ARE things Google cares less about. The correct phrase is “couldn't care less”.

    This was a Grammar Nazi update. We now return to our regularly scheduled blog.

    Steve

  • Tbee

    You are right. But I also think Android forced Apple to open up more. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

    The biggest risk with Android IMHO is that since most phone are build in China, there will always be cheap knock-offs. I've tried the Airphone and others. All have very decent hardware, but the software is really bad. Now, if they only ran Android… They would force every western phone company out of business. And then we're stuck with cheap knock-offs and no more hardware innovation? Open source cuts both ways…

  • Tbee

    You are right. But I also think Android forced Apple to open up more. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

    The biggest risk with Android IMHO is that since most phone are build in China, there will always be cheap knock-offs. I've tried the Airphone and others. All have very decent hardware, but the software is really bad. Now, if they only ran Android… They would force every western phone company out of business. And then we're stuck with cheap knock-offs and no more hardware innovation? Open source cuts both ways…

  • http://www.AllSanDiegoComputerRepair.com SDsc0rch

    android is like democracy – sloppy, chaotic, inefficient

    but like churchill said… its the worst form of government (operating system) out there – except for all the others

    !!

  • http://www.AllSanDiegoComputerRepair.com SDsc0rch

    THANK you!lol

    the other one i hate is when someone starts a sentence with “irregardless” – bugs the heck out of me now that i realize its a unnecessary redundancy
    :)

  • Cyclone42

    Open Source is not new. And yet, Google sometimes tries to act somewhat like they created it. Open Source has been around since the 1990s, but in that time Open Source has not been very successful outside of the server industry.

    I was browsing Google news, and came across an article a few months ago in which a blog writer tried to make the point that Apple was doomed because they are a closed-source company, that Open Source is the wave of the future. Well, as it turns out, Apple is hardly alone in making products based on closed-source software. The PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook, etc..: all of these are successful products based on closed-source software.

    The jury is still out on closed-source vs open-source.

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