More interesting news for open-source geeks this morning, as it's emerged Android Open-Source Project head Jean-Baptiste Queru has kicked off an “experiment” to bring AOSP support to Sony’s Xperia S. Previously, the only official AOSP target devices have been Nexus phones and certain “Google Experience” products like the Motorola Xoom. So the fact that work is underway to bring this kind of support to the Xperia S, which ships with a skinned UI and a bunch of proprietary Sony tech, is a fairly big deal, even if it is just an experiment for the time being.
In selecting the Xperia S, JBQ notes that it’s a powerful GSM device with an unlockable bootloader, and said that Sony had been “very friendly” towards AOSP. On that last point, Sony has long contributed code back to AOSP, and it’s even helped out amateur devs like the FreeXperia team working on CyanogenMod support for Xperia phones, giving them AOSP-friendly proprietary code for certain devices. The manufacturer has also released alpha and beta builds of some major software updates ahead of time, and actively sought feedback from advanced users. So despite its comparatively small market share, Sony seems a good for for this kind of project.
In his message to the Android Building mailing list, Queru encourages community developers to get involved with the project, but to do so while staying on the right side of the rules when it comes to handling proprietary binaries. As far as we’re aware, AOSP-friendly propertiary code will have to be released by Sony in order for this experiment to progress towards fully-functional builds, just as was the case with FreeXperia and CM. The camera firmware, for instance, is packed with proprietary Sony tech, so an entirely new binary might have to be created for this project.
Aside from the technical challenges ahead -- and there are more than a few -- it’s certainly cool to see the AOSP brass playing around with open-source Android on one of the more dev-friendly Android devices. We're a long, long way off having easily-flashable Google-approved AOSP available for certain devices alongside the manufacturer’s own ROM -- in fact, we’ll go on record and say that probably won’t ever happen. However, if this little experiment is a success, it could open the door to other non-Nexus phones being initiated into AOSP, and that can only be a good thing. We can't help but wonder what Google's long play might be in this respect.
We’ve reached out to Sony Mobile for comment on this experimental project, and we’ll keep you posted with any information they have to share.