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Google Tightens Its Grip on Android

Google is exercising more control over what partners and carriers can do to the Android mobile operating system, reports Bloomberg Businessweek after speaking with a dozen or so executives of key companies in the Android ecosystem. Going forward, all licensees will have to submit their plans for Google’s approval, including those for new partnerships, plans for interface changes, the addition of new services and other code changes. Failure to do so will mean losing early access to the most recent updates to the mobile software, which can greatly affect time to market, and therefore, the companies’ bottom line.

Bloomberg Glosses Over “Facebook Phone” Details

One of the complaints, says Bloomberg, is that Google has recently began asking partners to sign “non-fragmentation clauses,” which gives Google the final say over how the companies can change the Android code base. In particular, Facebook executives are unhappy with this request, as this allows its competitor on so many other fronts – search, social, advertising – to have say over what Facebook can or cannot do to its Android-based device.

Bloomberg reported this news without even noting that, up until now, the so-called “Facebook phone” has been fully in “rumor” territory. The social network has repeatedly denied working on such a device. In fact, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch responded to the company’s blanket denial last fall by saying: “How do you know when a Facebook PR person is lying? When their lips move (or they issue a statement!)”

In later months, both INQ and HTC revealed Android devices with deep Facebook integration and many soon forgot about the rumored Facebook-branded phone.

If the new report is to be believed, then it looks like Arrington was right to call out the social network for not being truthful. Facebook is building a phone – and it’s an Android phone.

Control or Quality Control?

Facebook wasn’t the only company directly named in the new report. Verizon also had issues with the fact that Google tried to delay the release of its Android devices that use Microsoft’s Bing search engine, too.

Google, in turn, says these new measures are about “quality control, fixing bugs early, and building toward a ‘common denominator’ experience,” John Lagerling, director of global Android partnerships at Google told the news outlet.

But the newer restrictions have prompted complaints to the Justice Department, says Bloomberg. Google has tightened up too much, its partners feel.

In Google’s defense, some control over what can be done with Android may not be a bad thing. We don’t want to see more tablets running non-tablet optimized versions of Android, nor to we want to see the tablet-ready Honeycomb squeezed onto mobile phones. In the race to be first out with the latest and greatest, some device manufacturers are making choices that end up hurting the end user’s experience of Android.

However, if Google is using its position to do more than bug-checking and quality control, as it says, there is room for concern.

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