Nokia CEO Stephen Elop took a swipe at Google and Android during a press conference discussing Nokia’s Q4 earnings, saying:
The situation that Android is facing, where the amount of fragmentation that you’re seeing is increasing as people take it in different directions, is of course offset by Google’s efforts to turn an open ecosystem into something that’s quite a bit more closed as you’ve seen quite recently.
This is what we like to call “having your cake and eating it too.” Elop simultaneously slapped Android for its fragmented ecosystem — a result of its open nature — and then accused Google of trying to lock it down and exert some control over the operating system’s fate. To hear him tell it, Android is too open and too closed, but Elop is making the mistake of lumping Android’s purpose in with Google’s.
The “open” part makes sense. Android is used to power all manner of devices, from phones and tablets to videogame consoles, and companies like Samsung, HTC, and Amazon are free to do whatever they want with the operating system. While some (like Samsung) might appreciate that openness, it does cause some problems when it comes time to explain to someone that their Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy S III, and HTC Flyer all run on the same operating system.
So far as Google’s attempts to lock Android down, well… that one’s a bit trickier. One hypothesis is that Elop was referring to Google’s dropping of Exchange ActiveSync, which will leave Windows Phone users who sync their email, calendars, and contacts via Gmail without access to their data. This is certainly a blow to the already-stumbling Windows Phone platform (though Microsoft says that it will support Google’s alternative, which may mitigate the issue), but it’s got nothing to do with Google locking Android away.
Android and Google aren’t the same as, say, iOS and Apple. If iOS “wins” Apple wins — profits go up, lock-in can affect more users, and investors can stop trashing a company’s stock for not meeting Wall Street’s (outrageous) expectations. But Android “winning” doesn’t mean that Google wins.
Manufacturers are free to do almost whatever they’d like with Android. Someone could pick up Samsung’s Galaxy S III and the HTC Droid DNA and have no idea that they utilize the same platform. Ouya has built a videogame console on top of an operating system typically used for phones and tablets. Android is popular because it’s so open and freely available, and Google knows it.
Google’s Andy Rubin told The Verge in October:
I have a bunch of manufacturers building devices based on Android, and I don’t control every device. It would be wrong for me to control every device because it wouldn’t be helpful. We’re really at the mercy of the OEMs and the operators in terms of what gets in devices.
That’s why Google ships the Nexus product line — it’s just about the only way the company says “No, this is what Android is really about.” Without these products, and, in the future, products from Sony and Vizio running stock Android, it would be hard to describe just what the operating system really is, what with Samsung’s TouchWiz, HTC’s Sense, Motorola’s Blur (formerly MotoBlur), and any number of other manufacturer customizations made to the platform.
Let’s not blame Android for the sins of the father. Google may have dealt a blow to Windows Phone users by dropping Exchange ActiveSync, but that doesn’t have anything to do with Android being “open” or “closed.” Even though the operating system is developed by Google, dozens of companies have proven that Android hasn’t been locked away in Mountain View.