Thursday, September 16, 2010

Android and the Myth of Openness

I realize I never did any sort of formal intro to my first post as I was a bit tipsy when I posted it, I figure I should do one now so y'all have an idea of things you're likely to see showing up under my name. As a tech professional for going on 2 decades now (god I'm old) you're likely to see commentary from me on various and sundry topics in the tech quarter, as well as voluble arguments with Admiral X as I wend my way through my neverending love-hate relationship with Steve Jobs. I'm also something of a theatre queen (understatement, I know) so interesting Broadway tidbits as well as my own reviews of the shows I've seen both in NYC and locally will be appearing. I'll try to eschew politics, though I can't guarantee it, as you'll see below.

“My own garden is my own garden,” said the Giant; “anyone can understand that, and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself.” So he built a high wall all around it, and put up a notice-board.
He was a very selfish Giant.
One of the main selling points of Android devices is that Google Android is an open platform compared to the walled garden owned by the Selfish Giant, I mean, Steve Jobs. A number of recent articles in the tech blogosphere (yes, I hate myself a little bit for using that term) have started to call into question this myth.
For better or for worse, Steve Jobs created his own walled garden by exerting his stronger influence over that of the carriers. There were the occasional times that Steve & Co bowed to the wishes of AT&T (barring Google Voice, disabling Tethering) but those were usually done over Jobs' voiced objections. The thing about the iPhone is that, yes, it's a walled garden, but you know that full well upon walking in.

Let's look at Android. It's open, it's free, it's extensible, it's upgradeable YAY! But, oh wait, my carrier or my manufacturer has put a skin on it so you can't upgrade when the new version comes out without breaking the UI you know and/or love. And my carrier changed and locked the default search provider. And they downplayed the open market in favor of their own closed markets. Oh no, looks like we've got a couple more Selfish Giants on the prowl. Regardless of which one wins, the average user is the loser. This is why I think it is high time for the FCC to step in and change the rules of the cellular marketplace. They need to:
  1. Ban carrier phone subsidies.
  2. Ban carrier software bundling.
  3. Ban hardware crippling.
The Carriers should be required to publish a technical specification for devices that they will allow to run on their networks and the services they can provide. The Device and OS makers would then build to that spec or not at their discretion. The end user would then be able to purchase the handset and know that all the features that the manufacturer says it has, it actually has. The end user would also know exactly the height and thickness of the walls around that particular garden. The end user would get more competitive and transparent pricing from the Carriers.


The Diarist said...

Where's that damned "Like" button when you need it?

Admiral X said...

Ban carrier phone subsidies.

Remember how much the iPhone cost when it debuted? That would be a a bargain compared to what all phones would cost on average if the subsidies were dropped. Don't forget the original iPhone would run circles around a computers built in 2001 to say nothing of the stuff we used in the decade before that. Love it or hate it, subsidies are essential.

Apart from that, ditto the Diarist. With the exception of the walled garden thing. Another blogger linked from Daring Fireball put it best. Walled Gardens are cultivated for a reason. I can either have this beautiful, manicured, sculpted, pleasurable place to live ... or the ratty, weeded, bug-infested, cesspool of a swamp next door with its dangerous wild animals, broken glass, discarded needles and self-important crackheads that is Android. Could I make something of it? Sure, with a shit ton of effort. But why would I go that route when I can walk into the Garden of Delights and "sell my soul" to the company that's, for the past ten years, kept food on my table?

No brainer. And when confronted with a similar choice come January or somewhere therebouts, I think a sizable chunk of those Android adherents who could give two shits about Google's twisted definition of open will come to the same conclusion.

Android, under the glitz, is Linux. And if anyone were interested in what Linux has to offer outside the hardest core open source zealots, we'd be choosing between distros when we buy our next computer instead of making that switch away from the old Evil Empire.

Don't be evil my ass.

Just Jack said...

The subsidies though are paid out over the course of the contract (why do you think they have such high ETFs). And, while the cost in the past would have been prohibitive, the time has come for them to impose the ban now that a robust marketplace exists.

Admiral X said...

The subsidies still have the effect of lowering the barrier to entry for people who would otherwise be priced out of the market. For that reason alone, they're worth it.

And this aint exactly robust.

Just Jack said...

I meant robust in regards to the marketplace for the parts that make modern phones.