Google’s Android Closing the Honeycomb Code – Death of Open Source?

The entire world of mobile interested parties froze. That feeling of suppressed panic was in the air when Google announced that they would be “delaying” the release of the source code to the newest version of its Android OS to the public. Android was closing off. The death of open source? That question burned on the lips of journalists everywhere. The reality is, no. Android will still be open source. The Open Handset Alliance will still control android development and nothing will change, but why, then, did this happen?

Android is the mega success of the smartphone world. By the end of this year, according to market analysis reports, Android will be the number one smartphone OS in the world; it already is in the U.S., and it has been a real success story for Google. What has not happened yet is Android has not become the darling of the tablet world.

To date, the only tablet success has been the iPad. While there are countless Android powered tablets on the market, none of them has managed to make it to a major wireless carriers’ number one spot. The reason is that they are all running Android 2.1, 2.2 or earlier versions, which barely support the smartphones, that these versions of the OS are optimized for, and they do not lend themselves well to a tablet.

Google Android 3.0 Honeycomb: No More Open Source?

Google is preparing to release Android 3.0 “Honeycomb,” the first tablet optimized version of the OS, and it is a much awaited development. The first tablet to sport the OS, the Motorola Xoom, while not very successful due to pricing issues, showed the potential of the new Android version and it is somewhat impressive.

The move on the part of Google was intended to allow Android developers time to port some of the key features of the tablet optimized OS to smartphones so that the next iteration of the OS for their smartphone clients would be up to par with Honeycomb. It is that simple, so everyone just calm down; but wait! There is a bit more to the story to leave now…

Google is the originator of the Android OS, or at least it became so after purchasing the original company that wrote the code. Then Google joined with several other companies to create the Open Handset Alliance, a non-profit organization promoting the idea of an open source OS for smartphones, unifying and promoting development of this major new technology.

The Open Handset Alliance control Android and one of the issues the Alliance is addressing is Android’s apparent fragmentation. Being as they are all open source, the phone makers can change Android to suit their needs, creating the possibility that the OS will fragment, or branch off into different versions that are increasingly incompatible. To avoid this, the Open Handset Alliance governs what changes can be introduced into the base code of the OS, and even Google has had some proposed changes rejected.

The need to back-port Honeycomb features to smartphones is clear, as Android 3.0 is the next major plateau for the maturing OS. Eventually there will 3.0 for tablet and smartphone and, well we will see. It is important that this new platform avoid the potential fragmentation that was a concern with the 2.X iteration of the OS. Now that everyone is calm, there is the possibility that there will be some closing off of the Android ecosystem.

Android Leashed

The Wild West days of Android development may be ending. There has been much criticism of the platform from a security prospective and this has hampered Google’s efforts to break in to the business market. While Android will remain open source, there may be some core changes that are being built into Honeycomb that are intended to correct some of these weaknesses going forward.

Google is being a little unforthcoming about what the future holds and some speculate that 3.0 may be delayed until there can be a smartphone version of the OS first. Whether this is the case or not, there is little doubt that Android will remain open source. This is not only part of its charm but also key to the success of the business model.

Guest Author: This is a guest article by Jon T. Norwood who is a managing partner at High Speed Internet, a site dedicated to providing information on Internet Providers and Technology. Jon can be reached at [email protected]


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