Open! Open! Open! (A Vein)

We’re all open these days…

It all started with one of my friends retweeting this:

@Arubin Andy Rubin
the definition of open: “mkdir android ; cd android ; repo init -u git:// ; repo sync ; make”

which, to me, seemed like a really stupid definition of open. I hadn’t noticed who had originally made the comment, it just registered as a particularly vacuous thing to say. My initial reaction was that being able to retrieve and build the source didn’t make it inherently open. There are a bunch of issues pertaining to what changes you can make, what you can do with those changes, how the original code, plus your changes, can be distributed, that are far more important than simply being able to access and build the code. (The Java (JDK) code was almost always available and could be built, but you didn’t catch many people calling that open…)

After some back and forth, it was pointed out to me that the Twit was from Andy Rubin (head honcho of Android @ Google) and was in response to some comments made by (a high pitched) Steve Jobs during an Apple earnings call. No doubt the twat is geeks marketing to geeks. Nothing unusual to that – it’s the Google way… except that its an incredibly vapid response.

The remarks that Jobs made are, as you might expect, a little odd. You can listen to them here. Apart from anything else his definition of open as ‘being like Windows’ (presumably because any hardware manf. is open to create the hardware on which it runs…) is unlikely to garner him much support. That being said, his basic point is correct: Android is already massively fragmented as a platform, and it’s only going to get worse.

Now, of course, there is fragmentation in the iOS world, but it’s already orders of magnitude less of an issue than Android because there are simply less devices, versions, and less device / carrier combinations. The carrier and handset manf. will continue to play a game with Google where they seek to differentiate themselves from their competition by offering features / options. They’ll strike agreements with content providers to target their carrier / handset specific features. Over time the market will revert to the usual high churn mess that benefits everyone but the user.

What i find truly odd about this situation is that it’s exactly what happened to J2ME… although J2ME lacked the current geeky cachet of Android, it suffered from exactly the same fragmentation issues. It’s not so much that Android is repeating the same mistakes, but that many of the same people are repeating the same mistakes! Surely the people who were out there preaching the horrors of fragmentations to anyone who would listen, haven’t signed up to do it all again?! Once more round the hamster wheel perhaps?

For what it’s worth, my feeling is that Android will come to dominate a majority of the marketplace (in much the same way was J2ME dominated a large section of the market for mobile applications). However, this will be a largely meaningless victory for everyone, except Google.

Why? Consumers will be as screwed as always, apps that only run on their current phone / carrier, low quality and gimmicky junk. Handset manfs. will have to continue churning out low margin handsets for carriers all trying to find the killer feature that will prove as sticky as a non-portable number…

Which leaves Google. High above the fray, selling arms to all sides, and raking in the ad revenue.

Don’t like to hear the word “vampire” around here, trying to improve our public image. Build up a kindly, avuncular, benevolent image. Interdependence is the key word. Enlightened interdependence. Life in all its rich variety, “take a little, leave a little…”

However, by the inexorable logistics of the vampiric process, they always take more than they need.

— W.S. Burroughs.