This Is How Google Is Locking Down Android

Android 4.4 KitKat is infuriatingly close to release, and while Google has been relentless in teasing us The Verge has taken a look behind the curtains and brought back potentially worrying news.

In “Google’s Iron Grip On Android,” Ron Amadeo lays out the moves that Google has taken to increase its control over Android—moves that will be welcomed by any Android user frustrated with the fragmentation of the ecosystem, but met with skepticism by open-source advocates.  These moves are necessary for Google to maintain its smartphone dominance; as Amadeo points out, forking Android—building a separate operating system based off Android’s open-source code—has the potential to completely undermine Google’s mobile efforts.

If a company other than Google can come up with a way to make Android better than it is now, it would be able to build a serious competitor and possibly threaten Google’s smartphone dominance. This is the biggest danger to Google’s current position: a successful, alternative Android distribution.

To circumvent this Google has been taking all of its key apps—Search, Google Now, GMail, Maps, Talk, Youtube, Music, Calendar, Keyboard, Gallery and Camera, Hangouts—and putting them into the Play Store, which effectively makes them closed-source. All development and updates on those apps are now done in-house by Google, and access to them requires a license from Google that comes with significant requirements: any manufacturer looking to license Google’s apps are herded into joining the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), which contractually prohibits those manufacturers from building non-Google-approved devices.

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(via The Verge)

All of this, plus the lockdown of all Google APIs, means that putting together a functioning Android fork is almost impossible without a great deal of money to develop a suite of comparable apps. Samsung has started going down this route, though they’d need to map the planet on their own if they’re going to forego Google Maps or else go the route of Amazon, which pays Nokia exorbitant licensing fees.

It’s an inevitable situation as Google tries to maintain its stake in the mobile market, and while greater control will bring with it the cohesion that so many Android users have been calling for, the move away from open-source will further cement the amount of our individual lives mediated and handled by corporations—an environment that doesn’t lend me any more ease when glazed in the hypocrisy of a group that calls itself the “Open Handset Alliance.” But as Amadeo points out,

It’s easy to give something away when you’re in last place with zero marketshare, precisely where Android started. When you’re in first place though, it’s a little harder to be so open and welcoming.

(feature image via The Verge)