Google apparently has changed its approval process for devices to use its software (that'd be Android), cracking down on the way the software is changed and how third-party partnerships will be handled, according to the folks at Bloomberg.  Now, companies that want access to the latest version of Android will need approval of the things they want to do to it. And that approval will come from none other than Andy Rubin.

Google says it is going to tighten and enforce "non-fragmentation clauses," that intend to limit things like customization of the interface, and how manufacturers can partner with other services like Facebook or Microsoft.  Bloomberg tells us that things have already gotten heated, with complaints to the U.S. Justice Department being lodged.  There's also mention that Google has tried to hold back the release of devices on Verizon because they make use of the Bing services. Hello, HTC Merge, maybe that's why you disappeared for a while.

While I'm all for keeping crappy software away from hot, new devices like the Evo 3D, I'm certain that this doesn't mean the end of manufacturer skins.  And it shouldn't -- many enjoy the extras that come with manufacturer enhanced user interfaces, and a bit of curation by Google should make for an easier upgrade path.  But I fear this is going to greatly affect the release cycle of the source code for the AOSP project, and not for the better.  We'll just have to wait and see how this develops. [Bloomberg BusinessWeek] Thanks, everyone who sent this in!


Reader comments

Google tightening the reins on Android


lol! WTF are you talking about? At&t couldn't have cared less about Android when they had iPhone exclusivity & Android STILL took over the smartphone market in about 18 months. Android doesn't need At&t.

Vic Gundotra in his keynote at I/O last year:
If Google didn’t act, it faced a draconian future where one man, one phone, one carrier were our choice. That’s a future we don’t want. […]

So if you believe in openness, if you believe in choice, if you believe in innovation from everyone, then welcome to Android.

Businessweek today:
From now on, companies hoping to receive early access to Google’s most up-to-date software will need approval of their plans. And they will seek that approval from Andy Rubin, the head of Google’s Android group.

Can’t wait for this year’s I/O keynote.

Thank goodness! I've been waiting for this for a long time now. Android was never open source in the first place, but it had some freedom — too much freedom for manufacturers. If Google can some how control manufacturers while maintaining some freedom for us users, then we definitely have got a strong operating system for phones.

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  • Look for manufactures to try and circumvent the Non-Fragmentation Clause that Google mandates, hypocritically like users circumvent with Root. They WILL try and impose their own alternatives to the OS and if Google denies manufactures their own changes, the users will be the ones that suffer.

    This is the way it should have been since the beginning and now that HTC can't implement Sense UI, Motorola can't enforce Blur and Samsung Smart Life will be an "option", I see the Android phone market slowing a bit because of this. To be honest, its a good thing. The OS needs to stabilize in order to keep a healthy pace.

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  • thank god.
    bing in a google device? really dumb, im glad google is finally doing something about this.
    Fragmentation is one reason why I'm getting the Nexus S over the Evo 3d.
    and the updates too

    I want to say good luck with the updates on your Nexus S, over the Evo 3D. I think bing is dumb on an android device as well. It is fine on a computer, and that is where they need to keep it.

    Agreed. There are so many things that could go wrong with a company as big as Google tightening the reins on their software, but I trust Google, and Verizon's bloatware causing "stability issues" has become asinine. Hopefully this puts an end to that without too many negative ramifications.

    I hope that Google will get the Manufactures by the balls with their Google Services only and keep the AOSP running as it is. Youtube, Market, Sync, Maps and Gmail are certainly attractive services that most Manufacturers will want to have in their phone, but on the other hand, they could also be worked around. We already saw Bing Maps, HTCs own Map service, Amazon App Market and the normal E-Mail program. And Syncing with non-Google-Services is already built in.

    Soo... Yeah, risky move, which would be less risky by making the AOSP progress a lot slower than it has until now, which would suck quite a bit, unfortunately.

    I'd be much more concerned about the locked bootloaders, considering you can mask Blur easily and actually remove Blur without too much trouble.

    You can't unlock a Moto bootloader (unless you're Moto) easily.

    The new Motorblur is supposed to be way faster and offer a lot of nice features. I'm willing to bet two things:

    1) In a year, Motoblur with actually be good.

    2) Non-nerds (if you are reading this, you are a nerd, embrace it) probably like Motorblur.

    After living with Sense for a year, I could never go back to vanilla Android in its current form (I pretty much did, for a minute, with a 2.3 ROM, before switching back). If Motorola can get their skin closer to Sense, as they look to be slowly doing, I'd say it'll offer some real value and a great point of differentiation.

    I mean they just added the ability to clear individual notifications ala Honeycomb! Come on, that's pretty sweet!

    I'm beginning to agree with statements like this. Talk me me last year and there is no way I would take sense (not to mension blur) over vanilla. But given blurs improvement and sense 3.0s beautiful upgrades (I love that carousel!) It makes dealing with a skin a whole lot more bearable.

    Please tell me what MAJOR improvements that sense adds that cannot be done with a simple apk. Sense is for the most part a launcher. I realize it messes with the phone apk and contacts, but stock android gingerbread phone is 10x better than sense. Senses dialer is slow and buggy.

    Okay what about the update to froyo on the samsung fascinate through Verizon? Screw this I give up Verizon is a worthless P.O.S carrier I'm switching to T-Mobile or Sprint, this is just ridiculous, Verizon is worthless

    Phone that released before the fascinate (og Droid and inc) both got froyo way before it. So I think it may have a little to do with samsung. Either way. Leave verizon. Im sure their margins wont be effected.

    You do realize that the Spring Ganaxy S phone only got their upgrade marginally before VZW (which should come any day now that a working signed ROM leaked) and TMo Vibrant is still waiting for theirs too ...

    Thank god. This is not at all saying there will be no more Sense, Blur, pukewiz or whatever. Things like that must be approved. Something needs to be done about carriers spyware too (IQAgent running in HTC sense.. yea, google it guys).

    Google just needs to clean Android up a little bit. With rumors of HTC locking their phones down ala Motorola.. therefore FORCING their craptastic bloatware on us... then I have no isses with Google stepping in.

    My only question is... WTF took so long?!?!

    Thank you google! I'm stoked knowing google is finally putting an end to companies butchering the android OS.

    debatable in some cases (look, I only read some articles, lol), but I'll agree with you,063_xobx. Supposedly, some guy ran a test and concluded that WebOS was truly open source and Android wasn't because certain things were dependent on others while WebOS could run almost completely stripped down.

    Am I missing something? I looked into WebOS a lot when HP announced its WebOS devices, but everything I read on it said that it was proprietary, and I found quite a few blog posts on whether or not HP should open source WebOS, implying it wasn't already. Could you link me to the article that claims WebOS is open source?

    GOOD JOB GOOGLE!!!! now we can actually buy a phone and not have it be obsolete in almost a year. because of fragmentation, im thinking of getting sprints nexus s (for the updates) over an epic.

    What phone did you buy that stopped working after a year? Do you mean that your phone's manufacturer/carrier didn't bother to port newer versions to your phone?

    The issue here is with manufacturers using custom drivers and other software that isn't included in AOSP. If Samsung or whoever doesn't think it's worth their time to port a new version to your phone, then others will do it...unless they use weird software that isn't open source, in which case it makes it hard to port.

    Think of it like buying a laptop. If I buy a Sony Vaio, there is a good chance that since Sony uses weird hardware I will have to depend on them to make sure new versions of Windows run on it. If I buy a laptop with standard parts then I can upgrade whenever I want.

    Likewise, if you buy a phone that has features which depend on proprietary code, you are at the manufacturer's mercy for upgrades. Google doesn't do it. They publish Android. If Samsung or Moto or whoever doesn't release a version that works on their phone's closed hardware then you are screwed.

    Buy phones with standard hardware and you will always have the latest version. A good example is the Evo. It has mostly standard hardware with the exception of HTC's Wimax and HDMI hardware so all of the new ports of Gingerbread had to wait on people to write their own drivers while the other features all worked fine.

    Just be a smart shopper and do the research. A skin like Sense won't hurt the ability of a team like Cyanogen to port the latest version. It's the stuff like locked boot loaders and non-standard hardware with proprietary drivers.

    Honestly this is what is making me think twice about trading up to an Evo 3D this summer. The spec boost is nice but there is no way the fancy 3D stuff will work under anything but an official Sense ROM or a modified version of one. No 3D under Cyanogen any time soon. Same goes for cool stuff like the pen input on the Flyer.

    The way I look at it.. well hoping to see it.

    1.No more (or at least minimal) forced bloatware.
    2. Hopefully eliminating spyware such as HTC sense's IQAgent
    3. Eliminate manufacturer tactics of forcing you to buy a new phone if you want the latest Android.. at least to a point because over time, phones get dated.
    4. Toning down some of the more atrocious UIs. Sense is very nice to look at, I am a fan. It just kills resources, hinders performance and hurts battery life. No need to eliminate it, but tone it down to closely match the user experience Vanilla android offers.

    Maybe some more I'm forgetting.. and it likely won't all happen. It might have the chance to hurt AOSP and roms like CM.. hopefully not, but it has gotten so far out of hand that it has to be reeeeeeeled back in some.

    It's a shame Google has to do the consumers' job. This shows that they care a lot about their users.

    Yeah, I'm going to have to support Google on this one. The thing is, carrier skins aren't just a simple home/launcher replacement. They "Sense", "Blur", etc change EVERYTHING. Everything is changed, even the settings screen. Every time I try to help someone without a Nexus phone, it never works out. So stopping the insane "changes for change's sake" is a good idea.

    I have a feeling the manufacturer can still install a new launcher and add widgets to their heart's content, but they have to leave the core OS alone.

    Poor Google; the get lambasted for being too open, now some folks are griping because they want to exert a bit more control. (More accurately, enforce the already existing license.)

    Yeah this is a good thing. I dont mind companies closing down their platform as long as the consumer gets a better product. Fragmentation on google android is a horrible thing. I think google should have done this a while ago.

    Thank God. If this means that HTC Sense will finally be a thing of the past then I'm all for it. I hate manufacturer custom UI's. They just cause fragmentation and delay updates. I don't want Sense, I don't want Touchwiz, and I defiantly want Motoblur. I just want the pure Google AOSP experience, and hopefully this means that I will be able to have that without having to root my phone and void my warranty. And hopefully this will mean the death of carrier bloatwere as well (I'm looking at you, Verizon). Best news I've heard about Android in a long time.

    That's such a fallacy. Two of the first three phones to get upgraded to Gingerbread after the Nexus One were the Evo and The DInc... both running Sense ... OEM's and carriers can get the upgrades out in a timely manner if they choose to, they just choose not to in most cases. *cough* *cough* Samsing *cough* *cough*

    Sense is OK, I like the look of the dialer, gallery, contacts, peep, etc. apps but the Rosie launcher isn't my style so I always end up using ADW or LauncherPro or Zeam Launcher instead. Thankfully there's a ROM called RCMixHD that doesn't have the Sense launcher but still has all the Sense apps.

    LOL at the people acting like Sense and the other manufacturer UIs are going away. Google is not going to do anything like that as it would kill Android. This is more about core OS changes that cause app incompatibility.

    All of the primary Android OEMs (HTC, Motorola and Samsung) can easily switch to a different OS and put their skin (which to them is part of their branding) on it. In fact in the case of HTC they can easily just write their own OS.

    Plus one has to remember why the alternate UIs exist in the first place - stock Android user experience is frankly not good. And it especially is not good for newbies or people who are not techies. And that market is the one Android absolutely needs to get.

    @TuxDotKing: here ya go!

    I read an article like something that you read as well. Not sure what's going on, but that's what I've seen before.

    I like pure Android. Sense is good, but I'm running CM7 because, well, I love Android for what it is, not for what it is dressed up as.

    joe how do you figure the stock android experience is not good? more so, how do you figure the crap phone companies and manufacturers is better? The stock android is pretty straight forward and easy.

    I'd like a solution like this: Google could allow everyone to do whatever they want to personalize Android, but at any time you can "turn off" or "uninstall" those features and go back to stock Android. Or something like how Microsoft is forced to pop up a ballot to choose which web browser you'd like to install in some markets, or how you can easily change your default search engine, or how you can choose to install Gnome, KDE, or dozens of other GUIs with Linux.

    Give the choice back to us! Let us be able to simply download the latest version of android straight from Google, and install/update it ourselves.

    Sure, the burden of bug fixes and phone compatibility issues for Google becomes much greater if you were required to go to Google, but perhaps the carriers could handle their own OTA updates as they see fit, and we can choose, if we wish, to take the risk and install a stock Android straight from the source with nothing cooked in.

    ^this right here.

    I'm sure there will be people blowing up over this because it's not "open", but this is the way to do it.

    I think if Google steps in to make sure things are running smooth, while still letting devs and manufacturers have some say over their devices, then that would be a win-win situation.

    Android is an open-source software stack for mobile devices, and a corresponding open-source project led by Google. We created Android in response to our own experiences launching mobile apps. We wanted to make sure that there was no central point of failure, so that no industry player can restrict or control the innovations of any other. That’s why we created Android, and made its source code open.

    Hmmm, seems this might be up for revision since it's no longer true!

    The only reason I like android is because what it is. If they think they are good enough, then die. Apple is so classy and free of warz..... and they stay true. Google, your OS is crap to Apples. You are in need of psycho surgery ....idiot.

    some of you can't seem to understand this doesn't take away from it being open source. it does however prevent manufacturers from butchering the android os and making it something google didn't intend like limiting which apps work on which carriers devices. this will bring unity to the android community and less fragmentation.

    I've said it before and i will say it again: what google needs to do is to make it so that os updates are independent of t e phone or the user interface. If this can happen the right way, by say forcing all companies to comply with certain standards or coding requirements then we may see it happen that when the next android os comes out then every phone gets it that day. Google has to say to all manufacturers something on the line of:

    "1) use our standards or we refuse to give you the standard google apps or app store use on your phone, and we will also (might be a. Bad idea) charge you a large fee per handset sold until you comply.
    2) We MUST also be able to push push out os updates on our own schedule and let the consumer choose when to update their phone
    3) We are not responsible for our os updates breaking specific phones as a result, and if it is found out that your phone broke from you failing to comply with standards then we reserve the right to initiate a penalty until issue is fixed
    4) as long as your ui or os tweaks comply you may update on your own schedule
    5) (i don't know how this could work but....) if a user choose to riot they may do so, and we hold no responsibility for their said actions' however you may not break a rooted phone or unroot the users phone. It was a user's choice to root so leave them alone!
    6) we encourag custom uis tweaks and innovative phone features but as said above we will not support any actions leading to fragmentation of user experience oe update ability."

    That is what google needs to say to fix the android fragmentation in my opinion

    Oh and google should have all the drivers for the hardware be standardized I'm the way so they are not broken via an update as well. Companies should get slapped for refusing to either upgrade their non standard drivers and making them standardized or for refusing to upgrade them and holding back the user.

    I suspect that Google has a lot less control over device updates that we'd like them to have. The reason that Nexus phones get priority updates isn't just that they run stock Android, but because Google has a direct service contract with carrier partners--they're Google phones that just happen to be manufactured by HTC or Samsung.

    With HTC or Samsung phones, on the other hand, the contracts for maintenance and feature updates are forged between the manufacturers and the carriers. Google has no involvement in the process.

    When a carrier forges a contract with a company that owns its OS, the contract usually covers all updates from the version available at launch to the end of the product's cycle. This was true with iOS, WebOS and Windows Mobile (it's theoretically true of Windows Phone 7). WinMo rarely took advantage of the arrangement, but iOS and WebOS regularly push out updates, even for devices that are two or three generations old. It also helps that they have less hardware diversity to contend with, which would explain why Microsoft drags its feet more on updates, despite the prepaid model.

    When a carrier makes a contract with a third party OEM, it has to specify which maintenance/features updates it's paying for up front; they're usually not prepaying for any and all updates that the OS developer makes available. So the manufacturer has to decide whether or not it's worth taking on the expense of engineering and testing for carrier certification of updates at a point when carriers are winding down their marketing of the device.

    The point of all of this is that unless the service contracts are directly between Google and the carriers, limiting custom UIs (which I hate) won't accelerate the update cycle.

    I'll be the unpopular one here and say that some manufacturers' skins are useful in some ways, even nice. I recall that Sense UI on the incredible gave a huge number of additional camera options, as well as the option of built-in theme-ing. Motoblur, for all it's rubberized, kids-under-three-might-mistake-it-for-candy gaudiness did increase ease-of-use for non-advanced users, who don't want to have to think too hard for bundling tasks with social networking apps.

    WE complain about it, because we actually like getting into the nitty-gritty of an OS. But for people who aren't nerds like us, the more user interaction you require out of the OS, the less they're going to enjoy it. This is why people revere their iPhones, because they don't have to engage a single brain cell to use them and get what they (think they) want.

    Vanilla android is great, don't get me wrong, but it's significantly less penetrable to a novice user than these OEM skins.

    "So what?" you ask. Well, if manufacturers stop putting in these skins, carriers may see the number of average-joe users (users who just 'want it to work' with no learning/figuring it out time) buying android phones decrease, which will lead to...I don't know what. Maybe a decline in android's popularity, which could lead to a decline in google's updates, or it will be less attractive to devs, or who knows?

    All I'm saying is that when you stop selling to the lowest common denominator, you make a lot less money. Carriers know this, and they like money. Google's got no skin in the money game for android, since they're not making manufacturers pay for it, so what do they care if average joes are intimidated by it?

    Besides, I like that not all android phones look exactly the same. Sure, there are themes, and rooting and different live wallpapers and such, but these all require some level of expertise and effort on the part of the user. I LIKE that a phone by HTC will have a different-looking UI than one by Moto and one by Samsung. It' You get to compare and contrast. Like pokeymans.

    I think if we give manufacturers long enough, they'll get the sh*t nailed down. After all, they're all about enhancing and simplifying the user experience. If they really thought vanilla would sell better than their own UIs, they would've used vanilla on all of their android devices.

    I like Sense as well on my Thunderbolt but what I would like to see during the setup process when you get your phone, a choice if you want the phone to be plain vanilla Droid or HTC sense. This would appease both parties, the tinkerers and the regular consumer that just wants it to work. Every now and then I would love to turn Sense off in a way like I can switch launchers.

    That would confuse the shit out of someone who's new to Android.

    Most people just want to start using stuff. They either hate or don't understand setup.

    Heck my own business picked up when I eliminated all except the required options.

    As I see it, El Goog would not invest time and resources in things like UI if, the manufacturers were going to completely re-invent the wheel when they got the base code.

    In my way of thinking, Google would not have brought in Matias Duarte (as Director of Android Experience) if they were then going to allow the Motos and HTCs to totally change the user experiences with one of their custom skins.

    While I am still rocking my Nexus One and will probably until another North American 3G frequency Nexus device is released, I can see the usefulness of a SKIN but, El Goog has to decide if they want total control like APPLE or the more relaxed approach (which inherently allows for custom skins like Blur and SENSE) which they have been taking to date.

    We did hear Moto make some noise that they were not too pleased with El Goog and were independently working on their own OS, maybe these tightened restrictions had something to do with it and maybe they didn't.

    In the end of the day, it is way too early as End Users to see what these tightened restrictions mean. It could mean tighter integration of the skin with the User Experience, the addition of the option to have a choice to run Vanilla Android or something else totally, only time will tell.


    I'm fine with each manufacturer providing their own launcher and even apps but they shouldn't lock down the devices and should allow you to get rid of them if you don't like/use them. Yeah what's up with the Verizon Android phones getting Bing instead of Google Search?

    Right now IMO, Motorola are the worst company in doing this, blur is butt ugly and they have butt ugly social widgets, they practically abandon some of their devices right on release (re Motorola Charm, Quench, Backflip, Flipout, etc) and are horrible with support outside the USA. Sure the Droid X, DInc, Droid 1/2 are great phones but those aren't available elsewhere outside the USA, forget the frigging Milestone that took well over a year for it to finally get Froyo. I think HTC and even LG are very good with Android.

    why couldn't manufactures just give users a choice on first boot (after carrier has setup the phone for use).

    On boot....

    Please select Device interface

    1.) Touchwiz ( or whatever manufacture skin)
    2.) Native Google Android (minor comment on dofference could be included)

    My thought has always been that phone companies like HTC, Motorola, and Samsung could provide the UI for the phone just like ADW or Launcher Pro. It should be an optional choice for the consumer.

    I buy an HTC Thunderbolt or Droid Bionic and it comes with Stock Android 2.3 or 2.2 and I have the choice to use either Motorola's or HTC's UI if I want.

    When Android updates their software then maybe Sense and Motoblur crash and I have to use Stock until Motorola or HTC fix it, but it does not hold up the software upgrade from getting released.

    Allow HTC, Motorla, and Samsung to sell their ui app on market place. I am sure they HTC would make a killing!!!!