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Google to prevent further fragmentations of Android OS

The search giant is looking to become more involved with companies using the Android code and wants the final say on whether the Android device is ready for release.

According to a Bloomberg report, Google is starting to become a strict overseer for future devices that will be incorporating the Android operating system.

First released back in 2008, the Android OS now commands over 50 percent of the U.S. smartphone market share in just a matter of two to three years, according to the NPD Group. The key to this fast success, claims Bloomberg, was due to the open source nature of the operating system. Developers who wanted to jump in on the smartphone bandwagon to compete with Apple or RIM no longer needed to invest heavily in mobile software or pay expensive royalties since Android was readily available for companies to use. This propelled many developers to manufacture the countless smartphone models that we see today, all running versions of Google’s Android.

The major issue here for the big search company is trying to keep all the software up to date and polished for the many different devices. For example, releasing OS updates for the many various Android smartphones is extremely sporadic; some smartphones would receive the update weeks late or not receive any update at all. The problem is compounded by the fact that some companies heavily tweak the source code in order to add additional functionalities, such as the Motorola UI replacement Motoblur.

To alleviate further Android fragmentations and have better control of the Android source code, Google will be much more directly involved with new smartphone releases from various companies. For example, Bloomberg claims manufacturers must abide to “non-fragmentation clauses” issued by Google, which would allow Google “the final say on how they can tweak the Android code.” The report gives Facebook as an example where the popular social network site is allegedly working on modified Android source code that Google has oversight on, something Facebook is uncomfortable with. Additionally, Bloomberg sources say Google has even been trying to prevent release of certain Verizon Android devices that make use of Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

On the other hand, Google claims its actions will build toward a “common denominator” experience where “customization can begin” only after quality control and bug fixing procedures, says Google director of Android partnerships John Lagerling. Future iterations of Android may be merging Honeycomb and Gingerbread into a unified source code for both smartphones and tablets.

Earlier this week, Google announced it would not release its Honeycomb source code anytime soon due in part to keep the tablet-specific software away from developers who might implement it poorly into smartphones. However, it is now likely that the bigger reason is to maintain a better grasp of its popular Android software from differentiating too much in the future. Google will have to find its balance between open source and closed source for its successful mobile operation system.


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Allen Ngo, 2011-03-31 (Update: 2012-05-26)