Android Is Still Open, Google's Rubin Insists

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Much ado has been made about Google's recent delay in releasing its latest Android code to developers, as well as reports that it has been exerting more control over device makers. However, the mobile platform is just as open as it used to be.

So argues Google vice president of engineering Andy Rubin, who posted an insistent rebuttal on Wednesday to any claims suggesting otherwise.

"Recently, there's been a lot of misinformation in the press about Android and Google's role in supporting the ecosystem," Rubin began. "I'm writing in the spirit of transparency and in an attempt to set the record straight."

'Our Approach Remains Unchanged'

The Android platform has taken the world by storm since the launch of the first Android device in October 2008, and research firm Gartner now predicts that almost half of all the world's smartphones will run the operating system by the end of next year. The iPhone, meanwhile, is increasingly popular among teenagers, according to the latest Piper Jaffray data.

Despite Android's unprecedented growth, however, "we've remained committed to fostering the development of an open platform for the mobile industry and beyond," Rubin maintained.

Whereas numerous reports last week focused on "anti-fragmentation clauses" restricting licensees' ability to customize Android's code, device makers remain "free to modify Android to customize any range of features for Android devices," Rubin pointed out.

Focusing primarily on "basic compatibility requirements," in fact, the company's anti-fragmentation program has been in place since the launch of Android 1.0 and so is nothing new, he said.

"Our approach remains unchanged: there are no lock-downs or restrictions against customizing UIs," Rubin asserted. "There are not, and never have been, any efforts to standardize the platform on any single chipset architecture."

'We'll Publish the Code'

Rather, Android remains an open source platform, Rubin asserted, and its source code will continue to be released--including that of tablet-friendly Honeycomb.

"As I write this the Android team is still hard at work to bring all the new Honeycomb features to phones," he explained. "As soon as this work is completed, we'll publish the code."

No change in strategy is behind the delay, he insisted; rather, "we remain firmly committed to providing Android as an open source platform across many device types."

Not a Question of Absolutes

Given the fully closed nature of Apple's competing iOS platform, Android's relative openness has always been one of its greatest assets and distinguishing features. The platform has never been as open as Linux is, to be sure, but it has enabled far more customization, innovation and consumer choice than a completely proprietary strategy ever could.

Is Google wrong to control which manufacturers get to see its code when, or to keep it largely under wraps until it's finished? I don't think so. Those are the company's decisions to make, but they don't mean the platform is about to be locked down.

This isn't a world of absolutes. Google's platform is still infinitely more open than its principal competitor, with all the advantages such openness entails. I'm betting that will continue to give Android the winning edge.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk .

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