In a recent article posted in electronista.com Google VP of Engineering and Android leadership front-man Andy Rubin has been stating that Google is not trying to clamp down on creativity or remove ability for developers to take Android in a direction that makes sense for them.
In principal, I believe this is the best course of action for Google and anyone in the android community. My issue though, if you can call it that, is that the amount of fragmentation by companies like Motorola, Verizon, HP, DELL, IBM, to name a few, is something that can come back to bite Google as unforeseen consequences. This is by no means to say that Google doesn’t know what they are doing, but there are some basic facts that come with any degree of fragmentation. At it’s heart, Android is just Linux. This is important to understand because Linux in it’s own right had to face and deal with this idea of fragmentation a while ago. Overall, the sub-trees and coincident branches that have sprung from the original source maintain and persist in someway today, but when RedHat, Novell/SuSe, Gentoo, Debian and others started cooperating on a set of standards, based on the original Linux kernel and community that supported it. Those companies were able to create another, higher level of maintenance within the OpenSource ecosystem that is sustained by the “core” community who began Linux, supported by an amount of corporate interest, required to support their branches and resultant kernels, but derived from a single pristine source, the “vanilla” Linux kernel source.
By deciding on a hierarchy like this, companies and the Linux community supported by hobbyists, scholars, etc, the community has grown fairly well to enable room for everyone but with a clear set of usability rules. I would like to see a similar set of rules for Android, but with a twist. In general Linux, and most operating systems, have no concept of an “app store.” so here’s the twist Google, you are “the” one source, “vanilla” if you will, for how everyone should treat this OS, develop apps, create new versions, etc, and rather than say “we’re not saying let’s not fragment Android” I think Google should be saying “we don’t want to see deep fragmentation, but if you have to, here are some guidelines. And, by the way, there are quality controls available to ‘every’ version out there to ensure portability, minimum performance characteristics, and minimum graphics quality, interface characteristics, etc, to make it easier to curate and reduce the “effect” felt due to fragmentation.”
One primary example of how this benefits end users is the KDE project on Linux. I could talk about iOS but that defeats the point. KDE is fairly portable, has visual and performance standards, and CPU and memory requirements to boot. This all helps ensure the users, regardless of which Linux distribution used, are satisfies, happy, and content and can easily use any version that runs KDE. No re-learning, etc, and programmers can easily write once and just recompile for any version with a high degree of confidence the applications written for KDE will look and run as expected. The missing component though is a quality standard at should apply to consumer devices, even if there is open source at the heart of those consumer devices, the application requirements should be allowed to meet some minimum performance capabilities of the OS on which those apps run.
Couple this with the idea of “cleaning” the store in which this applications are bought and sold only serves to help consumers who want “really good” applications regardless of who’s device they bought with whichever fragmented version of Android. This means that keeping fragmentation to a minimum is in everyone’s best interest, and it is still more open an anything that Apple has ever tried to approach. But because the Android store is technically wholly owned and operated by Google, doesn’t it mean that like any retailer a certain level of quality in e merchandise should be stocked and a feedback mechanism should be in place to prevent poor quality from seeping into that store, and if it does, to be quickly and prejudicially removed. After all, if you’re not a good coder, provide poor support, unresponsive to complaints and bugs, and all around don’t provide apps enough people want, it really doesn’t matter how much you like. androids open-ness. Either put up, or get out of the game until you get better at it. Since a lot of folks probably won’t do that on their own, then they should just be removed until their applications go through some sort of review process to prevent that possible consumer abuse in the future.
And all of this can be dine by also being “open” about how much fragmentation Android at large can handle and still survive. What I truly dread is some of the previously mentioned companies fragmenting Android, and then the application store that supposed to be “the” trusted source masquerading as Googles application store, but with very different and possibly conflicting rules than what Android and Google’s core principles are. From that perspective, I say that limiting fragmentation is a good thing for Android. Thanks for reading and I look forward to what the future holds for Google and Android.