the official Android Developers blog to defend Google's commitment to the "openness" of the Android mobile platform. The move was likely prompted by last week's Bloomberg Businessweek article, which, citing nearly a dozen executive-level sources, claimed that Google is now exercising more control over what its partners can and cannot do with the Android mobile operating system.Google VP of Engineering Andy Rubin has taken to
"As always, device makers are free to modify Android to customize any range of features for Android devices," said Rubin. "Our approach remains unchanged. There are no lock-downs or restrictions against customizing UIs [user interfaces]."
However, what went unaddressed in Google's defense are the very claims that made Bloomberg's article so newsworthy and notable.
Rubin: Nothing Has Changed
Rubin says that Google's policies surrounding Android haven't changed - the company has always had basic compatibility requirements and an "anti-fragmentation" program in place. It does not restrict manufacturer customizations nor does it plan to standardize on any single chipset, Rubin explained.
Claims in the press, he says, were " a lot of misinformation."
But What About Early Access?
But in the Bloomberg piece, the news was not that Google is now restricting access to the Android mobile operating system, which is what the Google rebuttal appears to be refuting. The news was that Google is restricting early access to the device makers who don't play by Google's rules.
One more salacious claim said that Google even went so far as to try to delay the release of Android devices from Verizon which used Microsoft's Bing search engine instead of Google's. In addition, the article said Google wanted to approve the changes that Facebook, Google's top competitor in many areas (search, social, advertising), had planned for its own Android-based device, the long-rumored "official" Facebook-branded phone.
To put it more simply, the biggest news from Bloomberg was that Google now wants to approve all of its licensees' plans, including those for new partnerships, plans for interface changes, the addition of new services and other code changes before giving partners early access to code.
"From now on, companies hoping to receive early access to Googles most up-to-date software will need approval of their plans."
That phrase - "early access" - is of utmost importance here. As we noted last week, not getting the most recent version of Android's code affects time to market, and therefore, a company's bottom line.
What's interesting is that nowhere in Rubin's defense of Android, which also addressed its delays in open-sourcing the latest code changes (i.e., Android 3.0, aka "Honeycomb"), did Rubin say anything about "early access" or the lack thereof.
Of course there are often two sides to every story - CNET, for example, notes that disgruntled phone makers looking for more leverage in negotiations may have leaked this info to the press on purpose. But in this case, by choosing to ignore the real claim regarding any "early access" restrictions, and only addressing the "access" part of the situation, Google's defense appears weak.