There is a new word making the rounds in technology circles that has caused a stir this week: “clopen.” The nature of clopen is that a platform is ostensibly open to be built upon but it must while also creating a profit for the company providing the platform. The clopen argument this week has centered around Android with the fundamental question: How open is Android, really?
Android is open source. Even by the most traditional definitions, the mobile operating system open for developers, manufacturers, carriers, custom ROM builders and hobbyists to build upon. From a consumer perspective, the nature of Android “openness” is cloudy. Is Android “clopen?” Answer for yourself in this week’s ReadWriteMobile poll.
The main argument for Android being clopen was made by reporter Danny Sullivan at Marketing Land. For the most part, this has to do with Android version updates to various devices from original equipment manufacturers. The fact of the matter is that users do not really have any clue if their bright, shiny Android device will ever get the newest iteration of the platform, Ice Cream Sandwich. The so-called “Android update alliance” has been a complete failure.
We have written about the mess that is Android updates several times before. The problem is that updates that run over the air through the carriers are expensive. The OEMs have to allocate resources to make sure devices are capable of running the new version of the operating system, no small task, and then the data that flows over the carriers pipes is costly for the operators.
To a certain extent, the OEMs and operators have put themselves in this hole. There are more than 300 different devices in the wild. Many of those are low cost devices that were never intended to get any significant updates. So, we can eliminate about 70% of the device ecosystem already. The carriers and OEMs should focus on updating devices that fall in the “superphone” category. A superphone is a device of at least a four-inch screen with at least a gigahertz processor. Just about every upper class Android smartphone fits into this category. The owners of these devices have the most invested in their devices, are the most vocal and use the most data and apps. Superphone owners are more cognizant of when platform upgrades become available and want it as soon as it hits the market.
The giant PR nightmare created by the Android update ecosystem could be placated by concentrating on the needs of these users.
Device Upgrades Really Have Nothing To Do With “Open”
The Android upgrade argument of clopen is completely consumer based. Sullivan says that the average consumer does not really have a choice to upgrade to the newest version of the OS if they want it. Apple makes it easy to upgrade through iTunes and now Wi-Fi with iOS 5. Apple’s advantage is that it is both the OEM and the software provider and it does not have to go through the carriers to push updates. Microsoft originates all Windows Phones updates from Redmond and pushes them out in OTA cycles. Granted, it is much easier for Microsoft to update Windows Phone since there are far less devices and users.
There is something missing from this consumer-driven clopen debate. The world of open source technology has almost never had anything to do with average consumers. Average consumers update when their computers or smartphones tell them to. As long as everything works fine and does not need a functional update (to make sure the device works properly), most consumers are hardly even aware that a new version of the OS exists. They are not looking so much for feature upgrades such as with Ice Cream Sandwich.
If there is an argument to be made about the clopen nature of Android, it has to do with what restrictions or limitations that Google places on the platform from a developer perspective. For that perspective, there is not a lot. The nature of Android being open comes into question when third-party service providers, such as location-based network Skyhook, come into play. Overall though, Android is about as open source a system as it can be without causing complete and utter chaos.
So, what does clopen actually mean? To different people it means different things. The nature of open source has taken a subjective tone in the last several years. What is open to one person seems closed and proprietary to another. Make no mistake though, there are not many companies that take a major operating system that powers hundreds of millions of devices and makes the source code available to everyone.
What does clopen mean to you? Take the poll below and let us know in the comments.