In mild of the $5 billion EU antitrust ruling in opposition to Google this week, we began noticing a sure basic Ars story circulating round social media. Google’s strategies of controlling the open supply Android code and discouraging Android forks is precisely the sort of conduct the EU has an issue with, and most of the methods outlined on this 2013 article are nonetheless in use right now.

 

The thought of a sequel to this piece has come up a number of instances, however Google’s Android technique of an open supply base paired with key proprietary apps and companies hasn’t actually modified within the final 5 or so years. There have been updates to Google’s proprietary apps in order that they give the impression of being totally different from the screenshots on this article, however the base technique outlined right here continues to be very related. So in mild of the most recent EU growth, we’re resurfacing this story for the weekend. It first ran on October 20, 2013 and seems largely unchanged—however we did toss in a number of “In 2018” updates anyplace they felt notably related.

Six years in the past, in November 2007, the Android Open Supply Challenge (AOSP) was introduced. The unique iPhone got here out just some months earlier, capturing individuals’s imaginations and ushering within the trendy smartphone period. Whereas Google was an app accomplice for the unique iPhone, it might see what a way forward for unchecked iPhone competitors can be like. Vic Gundotra, recalling Andy Rubin’s preliminary pitch for Android, acknowledged:

He argued that if Google didn’t act, we confronted a Draconian future, a future the place one man, one firm, one system, one provider can be our solely alternative.

Google was terrified that Apple would find yourself ruling the cell house. So, to assist in the combat in opposition to the iPhone at a time when Google had no cell foothold in any way, Android was launched as an open supply mission.

In that period, Google had nothing, so any adoption—any shred of market share—was welcome. Google determined to provide Android away totally free and use it as a computer virus for Google companies. The pondering went that if Google Search was in the future locked out of the iPhone, individuals would cease utilizing Google Search on the desktop. Android was the “moat” across the Google Search “citadel”—it would exist to guard Google’s on-line properties within the cell world.

Enlarge / Android’s rocketing market share

Right this moment, issues are just a little totally different. Android went from zero p.c of the smartphone market to proudly owning practically 80 p.c of it. Android has arguably received the smartphone wars, however “Android successful” and “Google successful” should not essentially the identical factor. Since Android is open supply, it does not actually “belong” to Google. Anybody is free to take it, clone the supply, and create their very own fork or alternate model.

As we have seen with the struggles of Home windows Cellphone and Blackberry 10, app choice is every thing within the cell market, and Android’s large set up base means it has a ton of apps. If an organization forks Android, the OS will already be appropriate with hundreds of thousands of apps; an organization simply must construct its personal app retailer and get every thing uploaded. In principle, you’d have a non-Google OS with a ton of apps, nearly in a single day. If an organization aside from Google can provide you with a option to make Android higher than it’s now, it might be capable to construct a severe competitor and probably threaten Google’s smartphone dominance. That is the largest hazard to Google’s present place: a profitable, various Android distribution.

And some corporations are taking a swing at separating Google from Android. Essentially the most profitable, high-profile various model of Android is Amazon’s Kindle Fireplace. Amazon takes AOSP, skips all the standard Google add-ons, and gives its personal app retailer, content material shops, browser, cloud storage, and e-mail. Your entire nation of China skips the Google a part of Android, too. Most Google companies are banned, so the one possibility there may be an alternate model. In each of those circumstances, Google’s Android code is used, and it will get nothing for it.

It is easy to provide one thing away while you’re in final place with zero market share, exactly the place Android began. Whenever you’re in first place although, it is just a little more durable to be so open and welcoming. Android has gone from being the factor that protects Google to being one thing price defending in its personal proper. Cell is the way forward for the Web, and controlling the world’s largest cell platform has tons of advantages. At this level, it is too tough to stuff the open supply genie again into the bottle, which begs the query: how do you management an open supply mission?

Google has all the time given itself some safety in opposition to various variations of Android. What many individuals consider as “Android” really falls into two classes: the open components from the Android Open Supply Challenge (AOSP), that are the muse of Android, and the closed supply components, that are all of the Google-branded apps. Whereas Google won’t ever go your complete means and utterly shut Android, the corporate appears to be doing every thing it could possibly to provide itself leverage over the prevailing open supply mission. And the corporate’s foremost technique right here is to convey increasingly apps underneath the closed supply “Google” umbrella.

Closed supply creep

There have all the time been closed supply Google apps. Initially, the group consisted largely of shoppers for Google’s on-line companies, like Gmail, Maps, Discuss, and YouTube. When Android had no market share, Google was comfy maintaining simply these apps and constructing the remainder of Android as an open supply mission. Since Android has turn out to be a cell powerhouse although, Google has determined it wants extra management over the general public supply code.

For a few of these apps, there would possibly nonetheless be an AOSP equal, however when the proprietary Google model was launched, the AOSP model is often deprecated. Much less open supply code means extra work for Google’s rivals. Whilst you cannot kill an open supply app, you’ll be able to flip it into abandonware by shifting future growth to a closed supply app. When Google rebrands an app or releases a brand new piece of Android onto the Play Retailer, it is usually an indication that the supply has been closed and the AOSP model is useless.

Search

We’ll begin with the Search app, which is a wonderful instance of what occurs when Google duplicates AOSP performance.

In August 2010, Google launched Voice Actions. With it, the corporate launched “Google Search” into the (then) Android Market. These had been the times of Froyo. The above image reveals the most recent model of AOSP Search and Google Search operating on Android four.three. As you’ll be able to see, AOSP Search continues to be caught within the days of Froyo (Android 2.2). As soon as Google had its closed supply app up and operating, it instantly deserted the open supply model. The Google model has search by voice, audio search, text-to-speech, a solution service, and it incorporates Google Now, the corporate’s predictive assistant function. The AOSP model can do Internet and native searches and… that is it.

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