Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Android is evil, but not for the cloud

Few days ago, Andreas Constantinou posted on the VisionMobile blog an intriguing question: Is Android Evil? As usual, I liked the post. And I loved even more the comments (you should read them, in particular if you are thinking about starting a blog ;-)

His final response?

[There are] the two types of ecosystems in mobile: the pre-load and the post-load ecosystem.
- The pre-load ecosystem (aka 2nd parties) is made up of handset manufacturers, operators/carriers and their 350-400 trusted software suppliers and integrators. These are the guys shipping, marketing and supporting phones.
- The post-load ecosystem (aka 3rd parties) is made up of software developers who can download the source code, SDK or get a developer-edition phone without signing any NDAs (and usually) not paying any access fees.
The Android pre-load ecosystem is closed (as per my 8 control points), while the post-load ecosystem (the 3rd party developers) is totally open – and indeed more open than any other operating system in the history of the mobile industry
Overall, I believe Andreas' analysis to be fair. I do not think Google is a great open source citizen. I never believed it. They give what they want to give, and keep what they want to keep. They are a corporation built on a very closed IP. They will use open source when is useful for them. Period.

For developers, Android being open source is marginal (what counts are APIs, even if the OS is closed). However, I was told by my engineers that they were able to build Android apps faster, because - whenever they had a problem understanding how the APIs were supposed to work (docs usually suck, it is a law of software) - they could look at the original code. That works only if your source code is public.

For OEMs, Android is evil. However, there is an area that I believe Andreas is not focusing on. Something both the OEMs and the carriers are doing: leave the OS alone, build applications on top that interact with the cloud (but NOT the Google cloud).

This is the most interesting area today on a mobile phone. Anything below the surface is boring and does not add any differentiation. The Home Screen is king. Services tight to the cloud are the queen.

MOTOBLUR is a good example. Android is left untouched, everything look the same (including the Market). But the Home Screen is different. It is connected to the cloud. It delivers social networks updates. It presents a social address book.

We are seeing more and more device manufacturer approaching us to add Funambol as an additional sync engine on Android. One that works in parallel with the existing Google Sync engine. However, instead of delivering your address book and pictures to the Google servers, it syncs them to the Funambol server, inside the carrier network. It is "Android without Google".

It is the power of an open OS, although it could be done with a closed one too: HTC was able to do it on Windows Mobile, although it seems Microsoft won't allow any changes to Windows Mobile 7 (are they really sure Apple is the model to follow?).

Android being open guarantees it will be always possible. If you consider how you differentiate on a mobile device as an OEM or a carrier, having the ability to take over the Home Screen and the cloud services attached to it is HUGE.

Google has created Android to maximize their cloud services and ad revenues. However, they have left the door open to strip out just the cloud services part... Definitely not evil.