Google’s vice president of Engineering and Android, Andy Rubin, vehemently denied claims related to his company’s fighting fragmentation in the mobile operating system. He stressed that Google did not believe in a universal solution and said that both tablet and phone designers were free to customize much of the operating system. Hardware partners considered quality and consistency as being top priorities and, purportedly, policies referring to anti-fragmentation had been implemented since Android and the Open Handset Alliance were inaugurated in 2007.
Rubin also tackled rumors related to an eventual standardization of the platform and hardware. Accusations were that it would reduce the number of changes allowed for developers and would argue for a favored ARM design. Google’s official claimed both were false.
He said the company’s approach remained unchanged and there were no restrictions against customizing user interfaces. He strongly denied any efforts meant to standardize the platform on any chipset architecture.
Rubin added that withholding source code was motivated since it simply was not ready. The OS would still be open-sourced while running on phones and would be accessible to developers as Ice Cream and not Honeycomb (Android 3.0).
The executive’s claims are meant to put to rest direct accusations and also avoid certain conflicts. Due to fragmentation policies in question as a major issue, some companies have not shipped updates for several months or have even cancelled them completely. Google’s own Nexus handsets have been favored, as both of them were running completely pure Android versions, and received consistent updates as well as new official applications immediately after they became available.
Rubin also avoided discussing special deals or exclusive access. For instance, HTC has complained that Motorola, Samsung and LG had received special support. Withholding source has affected smaller hardware builders and, as suggested by Google, could have been a measure to control quality. The company has been concerned that phone manufacturers would use Android 3.0 too early and on devices it was not made for. However, this move seems to be a reaction to an issue with small companies that have used Android 2.x for tablets and have created a poor reputation before having an official solution. The success Apple had in tablets has been attributed in part to a really optimized experience, while the Samsung Galaxy Tab itself has many phone-like interface cues.
There were suspicions of a necessary homogenization for Android when it was clear that almost every Android 3.0-based tablet used the same NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor and had very little or no customization at all. Google did not explain this situation but simply rushed the operating system to beat Apple’s iPad.
It seems it is still untrue that developers enjoy complete freedom to make customizations of the OS. There still are deep parts of the core platform that are considered off-limits. It is true that much of the system is changeable, but Google asks for “basic compatibility requirements” and gives full cooperation for those companies that agree to fulfil certain conditions for branding and for the experience.