back to article Why Android houses should give Google the 'fork you'

As details leak about just how closed Google's Android development can be, the billion-dollar question is why mobile handset manufacturers bother to play ball with Mountain View at all. It's not so much Google's practice of keeping Android development closed for prolonged periods, but rather its favoritism toward certain …

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  1. Thomas 18
    Coat

    Tablets are like top hats

    You don't really need one, but if you're going to invest in one it might as well be the expensive model everyone recognises.

    1. Ian Yates
      Pint

      Each to their own

      But I prefer one that fits me and does exactly what I need a hat to do

      /weak metaphor

      1. Thomas 18
        Meh

        That's the point though

        Hat's don't need to do anything, they are purely cosmetic, there is nothing they can do that a stormproof umbrella or a parasol can't do better... unless your skiing I guess.

    2. 27escape

      Especially as, for a change, the apple one is not the expensive one!

      £750 for an LG Optimus, (3G+WiFi)!

      Android tablets will not outsell Apple until they price them reasonably, on this score Amazon will probably win with their locked down tablets as they will be in the price range people want to pay, i.e. under £250.

      1. Mark Cathcart
        Angel

        I don't understand this fan-boy like dependency on a maybe/soon to be future amazon tablet. I paid $199 for a Barnes and Noble Colour Nook, in less than 2-hours had found, downloaded and routed it to android 2.2 and now have a perfectly working, android 7-inch tablet with Wifi. Amazon is going to save us how?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      sure thing...

      ...which is why I'm waiting for windows 8 devices. big iphones don't hold much sway with me. No keyboard means no work. Consumer yes, but everything for everyone single devices will be king. only one OS can do all of that at present: with a massive game library, pro level industry leading applications, and a pedigree and veteran of the os wars: windows.

  2. Rob
    Angel

    Good position

    Amazon is in a good position as well, with a forked version they can offer there own App Store as a fork from whispernet which supports the Kindle. There are already multiple Droid App Markets out there, but to have one with a large brand name backing would surely give it some legs.

  3. Steve Evans

    Hmmm...

    "Yes, this requires the handset manufacturers to become highly proficient in software, something they historically have not been".

    A rather important point. You only have to see what the once mighty Nokia did to Symbian, a full mobile multitasking operating system. They bought in an OS years ahead of everyone, and still managed to screw it up.

    You only have to see the delays handset owners have to currently endure when waiting for Android updates to see how unprepared manufacturers are for providing reasonable software support. Getting an update within 6 months of Google releasing it is currently considered "pretty good". I doubt supporting an entire OS fork will make things any faster or reliable.

    1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
      Facepalm

      Hmmm...

      You only have to see what the once mighty Nokia did to Symbian"

      I don't think it's a case of what Nokia did to Symbian but what Nokia failed to do with Symbian, internal competition between teams, multiple APIs and an announcement that were were developing Symbian but then they were going to drop it in favour of webos, makes pointy hair boss look competent!!!!!

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/10/nokia_ui_saga/

      I had a N?? (can't remember which one, may have been a N97) and apart from the somewhat cumbersome location of some of the applications I always thought it was the first real upgrade of a mobile phone I had since I got rid of my 6210. My new android has most of its features switched off because the battery life is so crap!!!! You just can’t win!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Trouble is

    Trouble is the whole point of Android is to make a common standard platform that all can understand.

    One of the biggest arguments AGAINST the success of Android is the cell company's idiotic need to mess with the installation, changing the look of the UI, packaging a load of bloatware, not being forthcoming with updates. Now we get Amazon taking this rather further, presumably to enforce some kind of vendor lock-in like Apple.

    The phone companies are not interested in software, they want to sell units, which is why Android was a gift to them.

    Make no mistake though, Android happens to be the litigation target because of its success. Any other successful competitor to Apple and Microsoft would see exactly the same patent/copyright/whatever heat and it has nothing whatsoever to do with Android's openness or otherwise.

    1. My Alter Ego
      Thumb Up

      "One of the biggest arguments AGAINST the success of Android is the cell company's idiotic need to mess with the installation, changing the look of the UI, packaging a load of bloatware..."

      Too bloody right, a colleague got a Vodafone Desire HD when they came out, and it's a dream to use - very little bloat etc. Another colleague bought one on recommendation - unfortunately after Vodafone had enough time to fuck it up - I helped him install a custom ROM so he could have something other than a shiny brick. It works like a dream now.

      1. Steve Evans

        @My Alter Ego

        The second colleague actually suffered a double fiddled with whammy.

        First HTC put sense on it (which is actually pretty good as far as manufacturer mods go), and then Vodafone install their crap on top of that.

        Carriers have a long history of not being able to leave things alone. I don't know of anyone who went with a particular carrier because of something they added. You look at price, how many years you'll be locked in, at the included minutes and data. That's pretty much it. They just won't accept they should be a dumb pipe.

        In exchange you get a hideous colour scheme (I'm particularly pointing at Orange here!), and you're lucky if you ever get a firmware update again in the next 2 years (again thinking of Orange and Nokia Symbian handsets).

        So yes, there is something worse than a phone manufacturer supporting a fork. The carrier badly adding bits to a fork!

  5. Jonathan 27
    Devil

    Terrible Plan

    Forking Android is exactly what the industry doesn't need. The Android ecosystem is already fragmented enough, the last think App developers need is 3 new Android derivatives to support. We already have iOS, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Android, Bada, Symbian (for now) and about 5 smaller players. I'm hoping this all boils down to 3 competing operating systems and the others die out.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Aye, totally forked.

      It's not just the app developers that would be screwed by such a development, it's the platform developers (e.g. Qualcomm, TI, NVIDIA, Atmel), and anyone who is expected to provide the low-level implementations that support various android APIs. Between build support, test environment, developer sanity, customer support, etc., it would be a complete nightmare.

      I suspect it would be fairly painful for the integrators as well, as right now they can indirectly share some cost between bug fixes, etc, and it also allows them to focus on their core strengths (hardware selection, unit design, fabrication, marketing. . . notice I didn't list OS development?). To be honest, I can't see anyone who wins from forking android.

  6. cloudgazer

    Forked to a faretheewell?

    If that's the direction that things go in then I think we can expect that Google will swallow their pride and change the software license terms of the OS to something which cannot be forked but only skinned - something akin to the old Java Community Process, but leaving them the final say.

    Otherwise we'll end up with a horribly balkanized Android that could leave the door open to a resurgence of MS in the mobile space, and really, who wants that?

  7. Anomalous Cowturd
    Thumb Up

    I think you have a good point, for a change...

    I have to agree with your point re: WebOS v Android fork. For Samsung to buy, or buy heavily in to WebOS would shirley cost tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Or option two, fork Android, hire a hundred top Java / GUI types at film star wages, say 150,000 dollars a year. Then kick some Mountain View arse! Cost 15 million a year. Tight hard / software integration is key to a responsive system, whatever the application. This could be double win for them.

    Or am I seriously underestimating how much good programmers / designers earn nowadays?

    1. karakalWitchOfTheWest
      Paris Hilton

      Nope...

      The problem is:

      You can't get 100 top JAVA/GUI guys & gals at one time.

      They won't like to work in a corporate environment different to Apple and Google.

      And for what? You have to earn 15 Millions with your handsets in the first place to spent it.

      Better try to bribe Google with 5 mill or something to do what the handset maker wants...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Underestimating a bit

      I am no film star, and no top Java / GUI type. Best I can offer is a PhD. Maybe I'm lucky.

      1. Xavia

        /walrusclap

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is the best part of (F)OSS

    You're free to fork it but you'll have to maintain it!

    If handset manufacturers think life is tough with the free Android, they're free to try Windows.

    1. Uncle Siggy
      Mushroom

      You don't have to maintain it.

      Amazon have already forked Linux internally.

      You don't have to roll patches to the upstream project if you don't want to.

  9. David 164

    The problem then becomes how do they market that OS, Google will surly move against anyone which tries to market an OS as Android without there software on the devices. Which means they will have to re-market there product as another OS, and consumers will think it a completely different OS and even a new one and so far every new OS introduce to the tablet market has been a complete failure.

    The tablet market is evolving similar to what happen to the mobile market in 2007 Apple dominates, Android come in slow and steady, with numerous products which failed to take off, but slowly over the next 4 they come to own over 50% of the market. People often forget that Android currently has around 25% of the tablet market at this time and growing.

    An we have to see how successful Amazon underpowered hardware and an obsolete OS will truly be, I do not think they will be as successful as many people think they will plus they risk destroying there successful Kindle reader market before it as really taken off.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You mean Nokia (53% in 2007) dominated then Apple and Google came along to take the profits and market share. BTW Googles stat's give activated honycomb (all versions) 1.4% of the total Android userbase, which puts it around the 2.3 million mark while the ipad is around the 40 million mark. Maybe someone sold a shed load of Android 2.x tablets but that dosn't seem likly (B&N look like they will sell 4 million nooks in their 1st year but i doubt even 10% of those are being bought to use as Android devices). The tablet market seems to be a lot more like the ipod/pmp market than the phone market.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    not a new approach

    You are obviously forgetting HTC, and other Android licencees who also ship Windows Phone handsets. Its quite OK, I can totally understand why anyone might overlook these devices.

    The problem isn't the OS choice available to the manufacturers, but that the damned customers just can't seem to stop buying Android handsets. Frankly, it doesn't bode at all well for Nokia.

    Seriously, forks are tempting short-term solutions, but Amazon are likely going to find themselves out-innovated and uncompetitive immediately ICS hit; or Jellybean. Unless they want to play code merging games, or just contribute their changes back and re-fork. I'm sure Google is cool with either approach; they at least seem to understand open source.

  11. LenFeldman

    What's your stake in the outcome?

    Matt, I agree with your argument, but you should make it clear that the path you're proposing will be of benefit to your own company. If Android is forked, especially by multiple vendors, it will make it almost impossible for app developers to support all the versions without resorting to development tools like Strobe's that are based on HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Amazon appears to be the first serious Apple competitor"

    I thought that was Samsung. Or was it Motorola? No, it was HP. Asus?

    Well, if not any of those, I'm sure the next one to step up will really be serious.

  13. D2G
    Thumb Down

    Uhhh... NO

    Because together they are more powerful then apart... And not to mention, Google innovates and has influence well beyond Android..

    1. The Head says

      one for all

      That's what killed Linux as a contender. If all the effort that had gone into all the seperate distros had been focussed in one coherent operating system the world would be very different.

      It's just a shame all the little egos can't just get along and value being different more than they value being successful.

  14. Arctic fox
    Megaphone

    Crystal ball gazing is of course always fun but should be, as far as possible,..........

    ..................evidence based.

    ". Lenovo claims that its rival has only sold 20,000 of the 1 million GalaxyTabs shipped."

    Now, as I have said elsewhere, I do not have the "inside track" on Samsung's sales figures but I would hesitate before I quoted the CEO of a major Chinese rival to South Korea's largest electronics company as any kind of evidence. Especially when, AFAIK, he provided *nothing* to back up that claim. In other words it appears (so far) to be a completely unsupported *allegation*.

    Furthermore, how long has the original 'Tab been out? A long time in terms of the rate of development and change in this very young market. The current generation of Samsung's offerings in both tab and phone space appear to be attracting *way* more attention than the release of their very first tab ever did. If we want *evidence* that they may make a real impact we could perhaps point to the "lawyering" from Cupertino which borders on the desperate - they clearly do not have a relaxed attitude to the challenge that Samsung's products may pose them. *My* crystal ball is fairly cloudy at the moment and I am content to await events in this, still, very young and immature market.

    1. cloudgazer

      Thing is the Guardian will almost certainly have asked for a quote from Samsung before they broke the story, and yet there is no response. Samsung have (as far as I can tell) completely failed to respond which is tacit acknowledgement that even if the g-tab's sell through was a little better, it wasn't materially better.

      Samsung could quash all these rumours of terrible sell through by publishing numbers, after all it's a year later, they must know by know what it was for the first two or three quarters. But they won't, in fact it's notable that they haven't even published shipment numbers since those first early claims for the g-tab.

  15. Alastair 7

    Apps, apps, apps

    You mention it, but immediately brush over it- removing app compatibility with Android would be a total killer. WebOS and Windows Phone haven't met with much success for many reasons, but the lack of apps is a very real, very important reason.

    I know plenty of Reg commenters will chime in and say "well, all I need is my POP e-mail client and a telnet prompt", but we're not typical users. The typical user loves their apps, and when their friends start talking about apps they can't run on their phone they are going to start looking at it as a hinderance.

    1. robin thakur 1
      FAIL

      Apps

      Agreed, I know of countless people who purchased iPhones for specific apps (like Grindr) many switching from Android because they didn't like the awful FB app lol Amazon are probably about the only company which could get away with forking Android. As someone else picked up above, you only need to look at how long it takes Android manufacturers to produce OS updates to see this won't work. Buying a handset is a bit of a crap shoot as to whether it even can be updated to any future version. Too often, manufacturers just release a new version of the handset and then orphan the old one. Makes Apple look very benevolent by comparison...

  16. jonathanb Silver badge

    Legal problems

    Forking Android doesn't solve the legal problems. If the Chocolate Factory version of Android infringes MS patents, it is very likely that a forked version would infringe them as well.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      According to what happened in US courts so far

      the Chocolate Factory version of Android does not infringe on any MS patents. And we, my friends, are all waiting for the day when MS lawyers will knock on Google's door looking for extortion money. For the moment Microsoft shows it prefers easy wins against small, easy to terrorize Android forkers. Why risk a bloody war against Google who prefers to stand up and fight against patent infringement lawsuits.

      1. Mark 65

        @AC

        A better argument is that, if you fork the code, you have the chance to remove the offending code rather than wait for someone else to do it that doesn't seem interested at present. Mast of your own destiny and all that.

  17. Andy E
    Thumb Up

    Hats off

    to the author. This is the first objective piece I have read on the current state of the mobile phone/tablet development environment I have read in a long time.

    One of the problems facing the industry must be the constant requirement to introduce something new. In the old days I used to be given a new Nokia every 12 months when I renewed my contract. The contracts have stretched first to 18 months and now I see 24 month contracts being offered. Will there come a point were a consumer will acquire a phone and keep it for 5 years? I would have thought that this would be of benefit to the telco's who would avoid the costs of subsidising new handsets.

    Andy

    1. Gordon861

      The problem with these longer contract renewal dates is that 18 months into the contract the phones start to feel very limitted when running apps.

      I got a new 24 month contract Apr'10 with a HTC Desire and I now have to pull apps off it due to the lack of useable memory.

      1. The First Dave
        Pirate

        @Gordon

        Oh come one! This is a tech audience, and you want us to believe that your phone has magically lost some of the power it had a year ago? Some of the RAM's jumped the fence? One or two of the MHz just not pulling their weight any more? All you get with a newer phone is a little more space on a clean slate, and a nice big bill that the phone carrier is happy to split into 24 chunks for you, so that you don't have to explain to the Missus why you just spent £500 on a phone.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          HTC Desire

          HTC Desire has around 150MB of user space to store apps, now you can add a 32GB card but that dosn't help if the app won't run from it.

        2. Gordon861

          I never claimed the phone had 'lost' memory, however the problem is that some of the core programs are getting larger each time they update. A lot of these aren't able to be moved to the SD card to run.

          I also assume that the Android updates take space from the same usable 150mb, hence the fact that HTC have stated that they cannot fit an update to Android 2.3 onto the phone.

          When the phone was first released 150mb seemed like a lot, now not so much.

    2. Afflicted.John
      Thumb Down

      No its not

      There's nothing objective about this piece as demonstrated by all the above comments. It's full of holes based on self interest and conjecture. He may have a logical point, but from a consumers perspective the idea of a forked Android means I would never buy an Amazon tablet. I want choice and not another version of Apple.

      1. genericallyloud

        Say it with me

        You are not the consumer they are targeting.

  18. dotdavid
    WTF?

    What?

    "Try as they might, they can't seem to generate sufficient "wow" with their hardware/Android combinations to muster much brand loyalty and, in return, chunkier profit margins."

    Oh please. Samsung, LG and the like can't even manage to code a simple launcher replacement, what makes you think they'd be capable of forking Android and doing a good job of it? Amazon might succeed with their fork but only in using Android as a locked-down but quite-functional firmware replacement - not as a credible mobile OS.

    Like it or not, Google do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to Android. It wouldn't make much sense for these companies to fork it now. Maybe by "Ice Cream Sandwich" when it's a credible phone *and* tablet OS it will be more forkable as a lot of the hard work will have been done, but right now I doubt it. Plus when they do fork it they need to retain compatibility with the vast number of Android apps available otherwise people will shun the fork like they shun Windows Mobile and WebOS.

    Of course if Google starts throwing their weight around with Motorola things might change. I'm sure they're being watched closely. But it's a bit too early to predict the death of the Open Handset Alliance, methinks.

  19. petur
    Thumb Down

    Forget forking

    Forking means (in the end) incompatibility. Will a handset/tablet manufacturer risk being known as 'that Android platform where not all apps work on' ? Guess...

    At first thought, forking is so obvious, until you start thinking of all the consequences. Suddenly it is *you* that has to do the maintenance and development, *you* have to make sure you stay compatible, *you* have to merge in those shiny new features that the official platform got. And for what gains?

    Many embedded platforms I know are bloody expensive and you are *still* at the mercy of the vendor to get bugs fixed and features in. This one's free, and fairly open. Smile and be happy, you clearly haven't seen much of the embedded world.

  20. Syren Baran
    FAIL

    Fork?

    "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

    --signed Unix

  21. Pete 2 Silver badge

    This could be all we'll ever have

    The barriers to entry for creating your own operating system were traditionally low. Snarf a copy of Linux, add some drivers, GUI-fy it and with 20 person*years you'd have something that could put up a credible performance at an industry electronics show.

    However, once you try to make money off that your £1M of investment becomes a £gig. and takes years. Primarily because of patents. The consequence is, that until there is a radical change in hardware - comparable to the difference between procedural and object orientated languages, the O/S's we have today are probably the only ones we'll have for a long time. Just like car engines are either petrol or diesel ... oh yes, or electric (mustn't forget the C5)

    Faced with the obstacles of coming up with something new and legally acceptable, you can't blame the phone companies for adopting a "Bones-esque" attitude of "Dammit Jim, We're a phone maker, not a computer company".

    Under the chilling legal circumstances, sticking with Android may be the least worst option.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh dear....

    This is possibly the biggest load of nonsense I've ever read on El Reg, further diversification is the very last thing Android needs. What's the point of a secondary incompatible Android fork. What Android needs is a complete decoupling of the OS core from the vendor overlays, so that I can pick up the latest Android straight from goggle without having to wait for my device vendor to polish it. I don't even use Sense on my HTC as GoLauncher is much much better, now if only I could get rid of Sense without rooting my phone.

    The issue Android device vendors have is that they are all chasing the same design goals, it's all bigger screens and thinner devices. I really don't give a toss if one phone is 1mm thinner than another, in fact make one 5mm thicker and put a f**king bigger battery in it, and maybe it wlil actually be usable. Oh, and give us more choice of hardware keyboards please.

    1. pip25
      Thumb Up

      Thank you, this is exactly what I was thinking.

      I have a Motorola Backflip. It was one of the earliest Motorola Android phones, and has pretty bad specs. I still love using it and would not part with it for any HTC AwesomeCoolName. Why? Because of the "wow-factor" in the software? MotoBlur is a nightmare! (I am now a happy user of CM instead.) I keep using it because the form factor is exceptional and suits my needs perfectly. You can't find such a fantastic "touchpad" on any other Android phone. The hardware keyboard is HUGE. (Although the keys could be a little better.) I have been a happy user of my Backflip ever since I could kick the Moto additions out and just enjoy the phone design.

      Phone manufacturers should stay FAR away from modding (not to mention forking) Android, and concentrate on making better phones, and/or by complete accident giving more choice to the customer instead of aping each other. Then maybe I may pay more attention to their brand.

  23. fandom

    On the other hand

    Forking Android doesn't get Microsoft of their backs, and it would prevent Google from helping them in the patent battle, for example, Google just sold a patent(s) to HTC so it could countersue Apple.

    Have you noticed how everyone seems to think that Amazon's tablet is going to be a contender despite the fact that noone has seen it yet? It has nothing to do with the tablet or the software, the big point is that Amazon, like Apple, easily have hundreds of millions of registered customers ordering from them is easy.

    That's the reason why one of the first things I did with my galaxy tab, bought second hand but like new in eBay, was to download the kindle app and buy a couple of books.

  24. Tony Paulazzo
    Devil

    Optional Title - I like it...

    But Amazon has a huge stock of books, films, music, ecomics etc, plus its own app store to sell you stuff to put on the hardware, Samsung et al doesn't.

    Also, stop being so down on Google, being an advertising corporation they're about the last company on Earth not screwing the consumer, and I like Android (well, with the HTC overlay at least).

    In one way, the Apple litigation thing might work for Samsung as they're bound to come out with something truly special in the the second iteration, special enough to blow Apple out of the water - one can hope...

  25. MIc
    WTF?

    hardware-plus-software-plus-cloud

    I don't think that was apples idea. they don't even have a cloud. iCloud is a tool for storing stuff. Not a new idea and certainly not a flexible platform for building and scaling services.

  26. AdamWill

    Note

    "Making matters worse, Google's top tablet-market Android licensee, Samsung, is reportedly struggling to sell its Android-based tablets. Lenovo claims that its rival has only sold 20,000 of the 1 million GalaxyTabs shipped."

    Note that's talking about the original Galaxy Tab, which was a rather slow, unpolished, chunky, 7" slab of Android 2.x 'meh'. It's not anything to do with the current Galaxy Tab 10.1 and impending 8.9 and 7.7, which seem to be rather more eagerly anticipated.

    1. Steve Evans

      re: note

      "It's not anything to do with the current Galaxy Tab 10.1 and impending 8.9 and 7.7, which seem to be rather more eagerly anticipated."

      And judging from Apple's reaction in Europe, I'd say you were right. Nothing says "we're frightened we won't be able to complete" like a herd of lawyers.

      - Definitely need a better collective noun for lawyers, "eloquence" makes them sound too civilised... Grasp sounds better.

  27. Voland's right hand Silver badge
    Devil

    Logic flaw

    You are making a flawed assumption that they will _WANT_ to compete individually versus Apple.

    That is not true for all of the Android crowd. Half of it is manufacturers which have grown up building to order, the other half has been there, done that with regard to having its own software. They have chosen to compete as a part of the "ecosystem" instead of doing their own software.

    Now is this the right or wrong decision long term is a different story.

  28. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Coat

    Fragmentation of the Android world

    Is I'm sad to say both a strength and a weakness.

    to expand a little.

    1) Weakness

    The fragmentation must be seen as an opportunity by the likes of Microsoft. As they see their WP7 offering really obly being attractive to the Business market and even there it will be in a niche and competing with RIM and Apple, Android presents an opportunity for lots of revenue.

    The more players in the market, the more deals for differing amounts MS can ink in their 'pay up or we sue you' operation over some frankly fairly dubious patents. HTC signed up for $10 per unit. They want a lot more from Samsung. Only Barnes and Noble have had the temerity for say, 'Ok, sue me'.

    Also, the more players there are each with their own twist on the generic Androis platform, the more development will more forward. If google controlled Android tightly then this variation would not be seen. Every phone/table would be identical and have no USP's. IT is a weakness because these tweaks need support. It is evident that many suppliers don't care one iota about support & upgrades.

    2) Strengths

    The diversity identified in the par above can be as Mr Assay has shown a strength. IF AND ONLY IF the makers (HTC, Samsung etc) are willing to spend a lot of $$$, Yen etc making their version unique and also putting in place proper support and upgrade paths. As identified, it seems that it might be only the likes of Amazon and to a lesser extent, B&N have taken the time and spent the money to do this.

    The ability for someone to by a device and then replace the networks/makers sometimes horribly out of date software with a bog standard version of Android is also a strength. Yet even this has some oddities. I did this and find I have to root the phone to remove the gmail app. Yes, I own up to not using gmail. There are a few other apps that seem impossible to remove unless you have rooted your device. It is nice to know that I can

    Ironically, this is also a weakness. Why can't I delete some apps OOTB? Why is it so hard and why do I have to open up my phone to possible malware just to remove an app? Like fiddling with Linux, it is possible but will the average user do this? No a hope.

    conclusion

    A lot more water will have to flow under the bridge before the Android ecosystem is really on a par with IOS. As someone use to seeing V1 products sometimes hardly usable, Apple got so much right on day one it is just scary. Android is still in catchup mode and probably will be until V4.0.

    {just my opinion btw}

    Coat, time for a walk by the Thames this fine morning.

    2) Strength.

  29. Silvensis
    Devil

    The New Bad Guys

    Amazon have a fairly cuddly reputation, as I understand it. They might be big, but they sell books, which is nice and harmless.

    Still, if they advance in the world of the mobile phone OS, I give it six months before they're evil, Orwellian, info-peddling, ad-mongering, omni-litigating, deceitful, underhand, secretive charlatans (at least in these forums).

  30. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Bizarre comment

    Since when have handset makers not been proficient at software?

    They have had to be since the first mobile was built.

    I dont believe you can even say that they don't have experience in touch screen ui's. Both Samsung and LG do for certain.

    In fact I would go as far to say that they probably have some of the most hardcore programmers left in the world. Compared to your typical GUI program I'm betting that radio and baseband coding required much more technical knowledge and much lower level coding.

    1. James Hughes 1

      But a lot of the low level code is done by the chip supplier (which may be Samsung et al, but often isn't).

      Having worked at Samsung and seen some of the code, I wasn't too impressed. The work ethic means they do 12 hr days, fall asleep at their desks, and once they become vaguely proficient, get promoted to managers. Not a way to produce good code.

      1. Steve Evans

        @James Hughes 1

        Actually, that doesn't sound all bad... At least the managers have a vague idea what they are talking about!

        I'm sure plenty of us have worked in far more Dilbertesque environments!

    2. Xavia

      You would think so but historically this is not the case. Most hardware companies are poor software developers because they simply don't budget for or understand what investment is required to release a highly polished piece of software.

    3. AdamWill

      the secret's in the vocab choice

      "Since when have handset makers not been proficient at software?

      They have had to be since the first mobile was built."

      No, they've had to produce software. They haven't had to be *proficient* at it. Compare how much value Sense provides (on Android) with how many resources it uses, and shudder. (To be fair, on WinMo it ate similar levels of resources but did actually improve on the interface, but then, being stabbed in the eye repeatedly with a rusty fork is better than WinMo's stock interface). I think I saw the top of the HTC curve yesterday when I saw an interview with some HTC bod in which they said their strength was 'providing a unique user interface' or some such twaddle. No, your strength is in building really nice hardware to run other people's OSes on, and for God's sake don't forget it.

  31. Lan ser
    FAIL

    What a surprise another narrow minded and anti google post

    Forking will fragment the whole android ecosystem leading to App devs having to build for HTC, Samsung, et al and in the end deciding to go to Apple instead and all the Android forks loosing out.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Yes, this requires the handset manufacturers to become highly proficient in software, something they historically have not been, and it also means they give up on Google's swelling population of Android apps, which are increasingly downloaded even more than iOS apps."

    Seems that not having to splash out on a systems team and fragment the app market would be a compelling reason not to fork... Brushing these points off is a fatal flaw in your argument and as such I cannot agree with your conclusions.

    I would argue that you are perhaps trying to over fit the real world into your view of open source, and that this results in some non-sensical business plans.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    I know it's fashionable to hate google this year

    As otherwise the cheques from Microsoft stop arriving, however I will call you out on one obvious flawed point.

    "Making matters worse, Google's top tablet-market Android licensee, Samsung, is reportedly struggling to sell its Android-based tablets. Lenovo claims that its rival has only sold 20,000 of the 1 million GalaxyTabs shipped. Meanwhile, Apple can barely keep up with iPad demand."

    Do you REALLY think Samsung have only shifted 20k Galaxy tabs? Asus were shipping 400k Transformers every month eariler this year (it's now 700k/month according to Digitimes), and clearly there is very little transformer stock in the supply chain, as they are still hard to come by.

    http://www.ubergizmo.com/2011/07/asus-eee-pad-transformer-shipments-to-surpass-400000-monthly/

    So clearly either your numbers are wrong OR your claim of "top-tablet market licensee" is wrong, or more likely both (this reads like a lame Apple fanboy rant "news" item).

    Apple has 75% of the tablet market, meaning Android has pretty much the remaining 25% (WebOS won't even register on the scale). We all know how it works. This year 75/25, next year 50/50 the year after 25/75. The same happened with Android smartphones, the same will happen with Android tablets.

    Anyone that's used a PROPER Android tablet (i.e. a honeycomb one, not the Android 2.x Mongoloid) will know it's superior in every aspect to the iPad2.

    1. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      There's a marked difference between shipments and sales. Ask HP and BestBuy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        FAIL

        Which is why I clairified it.

        Asus have almost thing in the supply chain with regards to the Asus Transformer. A quick visit to the XDA Forums will tell you that Asus mark their serial numbers BO5 for May 2011, BO6 for june 2011 as so on.

        Anything you buy at retail will almost certainly have been made THIS month, I know mine was. There is no excess stock, and Asus are struggling to meet demand, taking on another IPS panel supplier to ramp up even higher than the 700,000 a month they are currently SELLING.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          and yet

          Googles own figures from their developer resources show you to be mistaken. They are shiping a lot but not selling a lot.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Honeycomb came out in February

      Google says it accounts for 1.4% of all Android activations, thats 2.5 million in 7 months. The Nook has sold over 3 million and Amazons Kindle is heading for 7+ million this year. So people are buying a lot of E-book readers, a lot of IPads and not very many Android tablets, though when they start getting discounted to $99 in stock clearance im sure that will change.

  34. Malcolm 1

    Deja Vu?

    Sony Ericsson's early android handsets used a heavily customized version of the OS and got crucified for it as it took them an extremely long time to release updates and there were (some) application compatibility Why would this be any different?

    Amazon may be able to provide enough content to make their own version of android a compelling purchase, but they seem like a bit of an anomaly in the market.

  35. Peter Holroyd
    Thumb Up

    Good article

    The question of will the handset manufacturers put the effort in to deliver a handset/software/cloud experience then I think we know the answer will be no they won't!

    The Cloud is the extra element here that takes the smartphone and turns it into a really useful service and can help people stand out from the Android crowd. My guess is that other people will deliver joined up solutions by leveraging the cloud to their advantage.

  36. eSeM

    Price Is The Problem

    As can be seen by the recent demand for the (soon to be) obsolete HP Touchpad, the ability to sell tablets has very little to do with the hardware or software, it is the price that is problem.

    Samsung, HTC cannot expect to sell their tablets for the same price as Apple, even if the specification is better than the iPad. They only way they are going to increase their market share is to reduce the price.

  37. 5.antiago

    *Defining* the game, still?

    Just my two pence on one particular aspect of the article:

    "But if the game is hardware-plus-software-plus-cloud, as defined by Apple"

    I agree the game is hardware+software+cloud but I don't think it's "defined by Apple" anymore. Consumers want those those 3 things, sure, but not necessarily from one company. It is possible to get these things from providers working together in their specialist areas. Apple have successful innovated and built the whole category but the game has a life of its own now (as a successful category should) and there's room for more than one approach.

    Apple's approach still attempts to cover the lot. They attempt vertical integration, proprietary formats and customer lock-in *all the time*. But with Android and the me-too's only seconds behind in the race, I'm not sure at all that this approach has the long-term legs to make it. Other companies shouldn't necessarily aspire to this business model of complete ownership.

    "Yes, this requires the handset manufacturers to become highly proficient in software, something they historically have not been"

    Yes, quite

  38. Adrian Jones
    FAIL

    I don't see this working.

    Firstly, if you fork it, you need to hire the developers to maintain your fork.

    Secondly, you then have a version of Android which is different to everyone else's and more than likely incompatible. So you'll have to create and maintain your own app store.

    Thirdly, what sort of a market share do these manufacturers have for their Android phones? Combined, they're a force to be reckoned with, individually, the costs will out weigh the advantages of controlling the OS.

    The big problem with Android is that the handset manufacturers already tinker with the OS before they send it to the networks who then tinker more which means that any update from Google has to be tweaked by both before it can be installed.

    I doubt an HTC Phone 7 handset will have much of a problem with installing MS updates, but a Desire? Took about a year after 2.2 came out before I got O2's 2.2 update to mine.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it my maths that is bad here?

    "Yes, this requires the handset manufacturers to become highly proficient in software, something they historically have not been, and it also means they give up on Google's swelling population of Android apps, which are increasingly downloaded even more than iOS apps."

    The link: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-20103230-94/android-to-overtake-apple-in-app-downloads/

    claims:

    "Android could notch 8.1 billion app downloads this year, compared with 6 billion for Apple's iOS devices. That marks an explosion of growth for both platforms; Apple had 2.7 billion downloads and Android recorded 1.4 billion last year. The total number of application downloads is expected to grow by 144 percent this year, Ovum said in a report issued today."

    So: last year was 1.4 bil + 2.7 Bil = 4.1 Bil

    This year = 8.1 Bil + 6 Bil = 14.1 Bil

    14.1 is not 244% of 4.1 (10ish would be closer)

    1. cloudgazer

      apparently there were a significant number of downloads for other platforms - they project total downloads across all platforms as going from 7.4billion to 18billion

    2. 5.antiago

      A heap of increase, anyway

      Using the figures in the article, I have:

      iOS: 2.7 -> 6 = 122% increase

      Android: 1.4 -> 8.1 = 479% increase

      Combined: 4.1 -> 14.1 = 244% increase

      Not sure where their 144% increase is from. Including the stats for Blackberry/Windows 7/other platforms, maybe it comes out as 144%?

      Anyway, the main story of these figures for me is the relative growth of Android versus iOS. In just 1 year. If you had a high-end phone to sell you had better stick Android on it, else you're automatically playing in a lower league. It's the key to the big game

      For a hardware manufacturer to consider forking Android they need big balls, a tonne of cash and content ready to deliver. Amazon has all that, the rest probably don't have all three.

  40. DrXym Silver badge

    This is a terrible idea

    Amazon, Baidu might stand a chance of forking Android because they are content providers. They can power the apps people want to use on their tablets. They can provide the apps themselves.

    Unless HTC, or Samsung has some datacenter they're not telling people about, or a secret deal with Bing or Yahoo they have no content and therefore no gameplan for forking.

  41. Jeff 11
    Thumb Down

    Great way to poison the Android app ecosystem

    Rather than have a stable unified platform for running apps, you have a different software fork per manufacturer, fragmenting the market even more; not only do you have vastly different hardware capabilities, you'll eventually have to contend with different software capabilities as well.

    Forking also usually warrants a slowdown of new releases because there's more work for the fork developers to do to keep up to date with the mainline.

  42. David Cantrell
    Boffin

    Is Amazon's version really going to be a fork of the OS (and thus maybe incompatible with mainstream Android apps) or is it just a different UI and some different bundled apps? Given that Amazon presumably still want apps in *their* app store to work on both their hardware and other Android vendors' hardware, I don't see that the assertion that Amazon hardware will only be able to use stuff in the Amazon app-store holds.

    And even if it does, I bet it doesn't last long cos the hardware will be rooted a few days after it goes on sale.

    1. a_been

      I doubt they will bother. It would make more sense to develope the Kindle OS.

  43. David Evans
    Thumb Down

    Perhaps...

    ...forking will work, but only if you believe apps have had their day and we're moving to a fully compliant HTML5/CSS3 environment for all, which is a nice dream, but I don't think one that's coming to fruition any time soon.

    Apps are great because they allow developers to easily monetise content, for the first time really. Key to making money is to follow volume, and forking Android is not going to help them (version control on Android is bad enough already), so guess what? Developers say "ah, screw it, I'll stick with Apple" and concentrate all their efforts and revenue-generation opportunities there. Then the forked versions of Android don't have credible app catalogues (the "where's my Angry Birds? effect), and die anyway. Its not about just owning the OS, its about owning the ecosystem, and I doubt Samsung or Moto or HTC (or anyone, except....maybe...Amazon) have the chops to do that.

  44. technohead95
    FAIL

    Don't you think it's getting boring...

    ...all these articles on TheRegister slagging off Android and putting Apple's iOS on a pedal stool? TheRegister's attitude of "Apple can do no wrong" is getting really annoying. The whole reason for Android's success is a single consistent OS that developers can target. If manufacturers choose to use their own OS then there is no doubt in my mind that it will fail. If Amazon's latest lock down tablet that uses Android is a success then this is nothing to do with the fact that it uses Android under the hood. However, I feel it will be a really bad flop.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Pedal Stool

      That some sort of unicycle without wheels?

      I think you'll find it's pedestal. As in, the large lump of stone often found between a statue and a plinth.

      Plinth, incidentally, is the sexiest word a woman can say. Try asking a woman to say it sometime and watch their face. Magic.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Someone...

        ...point Graham in the direction of Jen Barber - cheers!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      IT Angle

      "...TheRegister's attitude of "Apple can do no wrong" is getting really annoying."

      You are joking aren't you? I mean, there is an IT Crowd reference and everything. Either that or you are new here. Yeah, you are new.

      Is it me or are fandroids getting at least as bad as the other fanbois? There seems to be more of them too.

      BTW, El Reg doesn't have a bias; irreverence is *the whole point of the site*. The other thing to recognise is that this "article" is editorial, "Open...and Shut" is an opinion column.

  45. David Simpson 1
    FAIL

    Obvious article is obvious

    So a maker of mobile frameworks for making apps decides to write an article criticising Android.

    A bit obvious really isn't it ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's worse than that

      Strobe are hardly even a maker of mobile frameworks.

      They're a startup with no track record, presumably looking for business to keep them going after the current round of VC money runs out.

      Doesn't mean the opinions can't be valid, does mean they should come with a large "FOLLOW THE MONEY" health warning.

      Thanks are due to the various contributors who have spotted this.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Forking and Hardware margins

    Amazon or other player in the market can fork whatever they want, if the potential costumers perception is that Google Market its the place to go, or the Google Android its the official OS to be used, what will be the developers decision? Its like Red Hat Linux and Ubuntu. Red Hat is pointed to enterprise users and Ubuntu for home users. The other players in the market just didnt make it to make a big place for themselves.

    "This tactic, however, only works if it overcomes the fatal flaw in the Android model: control of the OS. Just as Windows turned PC manufacturers into commodity players, selling hardware to complement its OS, so, too, does Android take center stage while hardware manufacturers become OS accessor-makers."

    Flawed example. Contrary to PCs, high-end mobile phones sell! If they happen to have Android, even better, because you have an app market! Samsung saw what the costumers wanted, smartphones good enough at a good price. HTC missed it, and just invested in the high-end and ignored the mid-end. Sony Ericsson is investing in the high-end with good customization and hardware at good prices and its paying. Even Motorola return from the dead. Samsung has a backup plan with Bada, but it will take time. Meanwhile, they are selling like mad, like the other manufacturers. One can say that Apple is selling good, like Sony did with Betamax. But history repeats itself, and this time Android has more quality than VHS. Hardware manufacturers become OS accessor-makers? Man, they are loving it, the money is flowing and its not because they are selling phones with Windows or selling feature phones...

    As for me, its in the best interest for Google having plenty of manufacturers using Android. If they are confined to Motorola, people will get bored, the developers would see another "Apple" emerging. What sells now its not the OS, the "touch" its a commodity, but the hardware and the design.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Someone really doesn't understand mobile development.

    I worked with Symbian and here's some observations for you. (AC for obvious reasons).

    1. We worked on a fork of Symbian and required getting on to 100 engineers to maintain the fork - this isn't cheap. Most manufacturers won't be able to afford this.

    2. Software developed for the main branch often didn't work without some tweaking and if you didn't have the fork it was often rather difficult to get things working and most developers didn't. This reduces choice of the end user which doesn't help sales of the device.

    3. There's always been a favouritism game with operating systems and manufactures, this isn't anything new.

    Dealing with a limited number of manufacturers during development reduces the amount of communication needed but still tends to resolve most defects in the OS.

    This will be one major reason for Google insisting on a certain hardware layout to be a preferred specification - it makes bug fixing a lot easier.

  48. BrentRBrian

    Why is it ...

    People feel like Google advice.

    In less than a year Android has skyrocketed to the top ... passing Apple, RIM, Microsoft and the rest ... forking Android must be a Microsoft idea.

    The only thing that needs FORKING is Microsoft and RIM ... they are DONE ... pass the potatoes.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    According to MG Siegler from TechCrunch who has allegedly seen and played with one of these Amazon tablets: "... the Kindle OS was built on top of some version of Android *PRIOR* to 2.2. And Amazon will keep building on top of that of that over time. In other words, this won’t be getting Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich... ".

    At a time when 83.9% of Android users are running a version of Android 2.2 or higher, a new device built on a version of Android "prior" to this is a device that can only disadvantage the Android market as a whole or the unfortunate users of Amazons forked device.

    As a developer interested in progression over stagnation, I elect for the latter. This is not a device I plan on supporting.

    Forks are in no-one's interest but the individual device manufacturer and should be discouraged. The fact Amazon hasn't even based this on a recent version demonstrates amply how committed they are to keeping their users up to date with the latest developments and imposes an extra burden on developers to specifically support their applications for each and every fork in addition to the official Android. And don't be under any false illusion, there are already other forks on the way in Baidu and GridOS.

    If the developer community doesn't want to overburden themselves in an already difficult market they need to send a clear message to the companies behind these forks and fast: namely "We will not support the forking of Android".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Kindle is based on Linux running Webkit and Java

      Also developers will suport whatever helps them pay the bills.

  50. mantrik00

    Forking Android would be disastrous for the vendors

    Despite the popular perception in the media which projects the OS as "Google's Android", the truth is that every new release of Android OS has significant contribution from the Open Handset Alliance partners who are deeply entrenched in the OS and it just does not make sense for them to fork Android and make their version of the OS incompatible with the Apps in the Android Market. Besides, the existing Android framework provides enough scope for differentiation. They would also not like to miss out on the further developments of the OS by going a different path.

  51. AJames

    Guess what tablet OS is #2?

    Maybe the disgruntled Android gang should be paying more attention to the fact that WebOS is now the #2 operating system in tablets, ever since HP sold close to a million Touchpad tablets in their fire sale. And webOS is for sale - cheap!

  52. Uncle Siggy

    Because Amazon is so much more benevolent than Google...

    They are doubleplusgood.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/18/amazon_removes_1984_from_kindle/

  53. BitDr

    Divide and Conquor

    Looks like the lawsuits are having the desired effect of divide and conquor.

  54. Doug 3
    Childcatcher

    nook color

    it couldn't have been that the initial Galaxy Tab hardware was a yawn-er, nor could it be the price. To not even mention the Barns and Noble Nook Color and it's $250 price when it's is an example of how to work in the eco-system of Google seems like the author only wanted to get his point across and not present something to provoke a discussion.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft marketing budget goes through the roof story..

    Yawn, only people confused by android are those that were confused by any phone (including apple)

  56. Rich 3

    Most handset manufacturers don't have a clue about UI design (or have lost it - Nokia did a really good and intuitive UI on the very first GSM phones way back when). Having them inflict their ill thought out cruft on users gives the platform a bad name.

    Also, a key selling point of Android is its integration with the Google ecosystem. Having all my contacts and appointments synced into Google by default is the killer app for me. I don't want to have integration with some ill-thought-out Samsung platform that then all gets lost when I buy an HTC phone.

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