Open, open, open

In this crazy little world we called Android, we're all guilty of throwing around that four-letter word: Open. From the top -- Google CEO Eric Schmidt -- all the way to the bottom -- your friendly neighborhood blogger -- we wield the word like a sword when convenient, or as a shield when necessary.

The exact definition of "open" in the general sense has been debated long before Android arrived on the scene, and it'll be debated long after Android assumes its rightful position atop the smartphone heap. (See what we did there?) You have your ideas of what "open" means. We have ours. And we share them, after the break. You're not going to agree with them all. Hell, you're not going to like them all. And that's OK. 

Phil Nickinson, editor, Android Central

There's been a pretty significant blurring of "open source" and the more metaphysical and less easily defined "open" of late. "Open" is good. "Closed" is bad, or so it goes. Throw in all the good-and-evil, Dark Side-Light Side metaphors you want. Then throw them out. They don't matter. OK, they matter. But not to the entities that really make the decisions.

"Open" is just a political buzzword at this point. Android started out (and still is) open-source. It's (largely) developed in an open manner. I'm amazed by the organization and quality by the likes of the CyanogenMod endeavor, taking code from various sources and compiling it into a ROM that's greater than the sum of its parts. Don't like what's in the CyanogenMod ROM? Grab the code and change it however you like. That's open-source at its purest.

But there's a gray area. Manufacturers have proprietary code, and that's not "open." But it (usually) makes for a better -- or at least more interesting -- phone. So don't hate Google. Don't hate HTC. Don't hate Samsung. Don't hate Motorola.

No, in the war that is "open" and "closed," I direct my scowl squarely on the carriers. Ultimately, they're the ones squeezing out every last nickel and dime in exchange for a bit of usability here, a tad of true "openness" there, control and -- on more than one occasion -- a blatant "WTF?!?! moment. The manufacturer's goal is to make the best phone it can. The carrier's goal is to make the most money out of it as it can. Those goals can work together. Sometimes they don't.

Let's face it, Android's never going to be as "open" as we want. Things weren't ever the same after Woodstock, either. Android has lost its innocence that we fell in love with nearly two years ago. 

Jerry Hildenbrand, Android Central writer

Open means anyone (even you) can build Android however and whenever they like. Manufacturers can make decisions such as using Android on poorly preforming hardware, or locking hardware so the end user doesn't have control. Carriers can make decisions like stripping out features, or adding their own -- even features we don't like. None of this has anything to do with Google, anymore than Linus Torvalds is responsible for the myriad crappy Linux distributions available.

It's your responsibility as a user to do your homework and stop supporting companies that do things you don't condone. Vote with your wallet. I am.

Sean Brunett, Android Central writer

Android openness is a win for the ideals and commitment to further innovation. New ideas and progress come when competition is allowed to flourish. There are countless companies with great ideas that should enjoy healthy competition, each contributing to furthering technology. The fact that Android is free allows manufacturers to offer sleek handsets, improving as competition pushes them to do so. This applies to just about every aspect of the OS, including most recently marketplaces. If there is a company that feels it can sift through apps and recommend more effectively than the Android Market, bring it on. AppBrain has done a remarkable job and Amazon looks to be next. The developer community is vast and incredibly intelligent; if something is possible and developers are allowed free reign, the sky is the limit.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t companies closing it to their liking. It’s fine to set defaults, but allow users the decision on whether he/she wants it. A mobile phone is such a personal device that there isn’t one company that can or should dictate what consumers want. This is exactly why the onslaught of Android phones to the market is only a good thing. While it may be annoying to buy and a phone and watch others come out a few weeks later, consumer choice is great. Personal inclinations should not be underestimated and with a slew of companies constantly innovating rather than one or two, whatever features your "dream device" would have are likely to be realized sooner than later.

Dallin Hampton, Android Central writer

The word "open" refers to something that is, "accessible to all." Although when the word open is used in relation to Google and Android, it takes on a techie spin while still retaining its root meaning, which is that you, the user, are in complete control. Due to Androids open nature,what you get out of your device is completely dependent on you. Whether you want to trick out your UI like nobody's business, turn it into a mobile office or a photo editing powerhouse and countless other possibilities, you can do it with Android because there is nothing there to stop you, save it be access to the root directory of your phone, which can be accessed with a little time and patience and if you still find yourself unsatisfied with your experience, there is nobody to blame but yourself and a lack of creativity or effort.

Kyle Gibb, Android Central writer

To me, open means that Google doesn't decide for you what features or apps a user will find useful. Sure, you may not use Flash on your phone much, but Google doesn't go and tell Adobe, "No, thanks." It is up to you, the individual consumer, to decide if you want to use Flash, or widgets, or live wallpapers, or even Google search (i.e. Bing app). Google does not police the Market, which allow apps like pdaNet (an easy-to-use tethering app) and Handcent (a complete replacement for the stock SMS app) to flourish. Google can and should exercise some limited control over manufacturers that step way out of line by removing core features, replacing Google apps with their own, or in other extreme cases, but they need to be sure to never use a heavy hand. They should also work with developers and carriers to make sure devices are getting updated to the latest version of the OS. But fundamentally, being open is about having choice, wither that means manufacturer, carrier, apps, or even style of phone, and Android is the only Mobile OS that is truly offering choice to all users.

Andrew Melnizek, Android Central writer

Only just few years ago, I remember a time when you bought a cell phone that was resricted to ugly icons, boring interfaces, and sluggish programming. Finding the right phone today is a much different. Phones are marketed to do more than just calling. I can't even remember that last time I haven't heard the words Twitter or Facebook in a cell phone ad. So how does this relate to openness? I believe Android  is still far from being a true open platform. For now, the only people that really care about the fact that you can root your Android device is -- you guessed it -- you and I. Trust me, your mom doesn't care if she can root her new Fascinate. She just wants to be able call you and do a little thing called texting. So for right now, "Open" is just a mere talking point in a marketing campaign. We are only at the beginning, people. Until everyone understands what it means to have an open phone, we will still be limited and restricted to some degree. These companies are in the business of making money. Like Jerry said, use your wallet to make some noise.

Ali Fazel, Android Central writer

When referring to Android and Google, open to me means that Google makes the software, distributes the code, and then allows anyone to take it anywhere that they want. Open means caring enough about being open that the software is allowed to be taken even to places Google never intended or even wanted Android to go for better or for worse. This does not mean that Google cannot put out features for Android that are not open, because that in and of itself would be against the spirit of open software. In fact, a good example of this now would be the Market and Gmail apps. This also means that Google will allow non-open (note that I didn't say closed) solutions to be integrated into a particular application of Android's open software. We have examples of this with HTC's Sense and Samsung's TouchWiz. Being open, however, does not mean that Google should not be allowed to restrict what enters their Market. While this is very nice, Google could close the current open access to the Market and still have an open OS in Android, provided that they allow users to install unofficial applications from sources other than the Market.

When taken this way, Android is open when Google is done with it. It is the carriers and manufacturers that close the OS. Ironically, it is because Android is so open that they are allowed to do this.

Jared DiPane, Android Central Writer

Open is, a word that has many meanings in daily life. An open door is something that you can walk right through, but an open OS may not be the same thing. Android started off as an "open source" project, meaning that many parts of the Android code were readily available to developers who wished to mirror it and make other changes to customize it to their liking. There has always been rooting and jailbreaking and leaked OS's that have been tinkered with in the mobile world and Android just wanted to make it easier for those users it seemed. Allowing users complete control is not the only way that this can be defined as open source, there are going to be limitations, there will be decisions made that end users may not like, but there is a business to run at the end of the day. The OS is "open" -- that means open to the developers, the carriers, the providers, etc, so there will be modifications made, like the choice to go with Bing over Google as default, that will upset some consumers but Google will still be making money, and selling another device that is running the Android OS. Limitations are normal, everyone, everything has a limitation, there is no difference between a cellular phone OS or a superhuman.

Mickey Papillon,, Android Central Podcast

Open is a philosophy. It means whether we're talking about software development, hardware standards, or carrier acceptance, the premise is that the user is in control.

Carrier "openness" is a topic that has been under heavy criticism since high-end smartphones like the first-generation iPhone was tied down to AT&T. Carriers in the U.S. that use SIM cards (AT&T and T-Mobile) have an easier time with "open" than their CDMA (Verizon and Sprint) counterparts. A few years ago, AT&T stated that you could use any handset you wanted on its network. However, you can't take any AT&T handset to another network due to software locks. The simple "move your SIM card" to another phone, only goes so far. In a world with different data plans for the iOS, Blackberry and Android, the swapping of phones can be just as tough as the ESN centric CDMA side.

On that side, unless you've got a "guy," bringing a handset from one CDMA carrier to another is very difficult. The carriers want you to use one that is specifically for their network, with each of the "value added" apps that ties you into their ecosystem. If you bring a device from another carrier, (say a Sprint phone to Verizon), how are they going to get VZ Navigator software onto the device, to "allow" you to add that service to your monthly plan. It's a revenue game, and each carrier wants to maximize it in any way possible.