Acer forced to halt device launch over Android compliance - here's why

Android's own Andy Rubin took to blogging this evening to respond to the reports floating around about Acer pulling out of a planned launch of an Aliyun OS powered-smartphone in China. Aliyun is an OS that uses the Android runtime  -- that's a fancy name for the bits in the OS that can run the apps.

Acer abruptly canceled the phone launch, while journalists were in the air traveling to the event itself. A statement from Alibaba, the Chinese web giant, said that "Our partner was notified by Google that if the product runs Aliyun OS, Google will terminate its Android-related cooperation and other technology licensing with our partner," according to correspondence received by CNet. This has caused quite a stir, as it doesn't sound very friendly or "open."

Rubin then wrote a post at the official Android blog that explains the OHA (Open Handset Alliance) a bit, mentioning that one of it's primary goals is to ensure compatibility between vendor versions of Android so that applications have the same APIs and instructions. In other words, Google wants the app you write for vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich to perform as it should on HTC's Sense or Samsung's TouchWiz. Working together, everyone involved can build the  platform together.

While there are still compatibility issues now and then, Google's response sets the record straight about a couple things. They don't mind anyone forking Android into something else, but if you want to be an OHA member, you'll need to follow the basic rules. According to Rubin, an inspection of the apps available for Aliyun OS show that this wouldn't be happening. Differences in the operating system meant that apps weren't compatible enough for regular Android. Therefore, while Acer was welcome to work with Aliyun OS, it would cost them their OHA membership. It's worth mentioning that Amazon is not a member of the OHA.

It's a bit of a spiderweb to follow, but essentially Google's position is that you're either with us, or you're not. They don't necessarily care that you want to use Android to create something else, but they don't want you to play with the rest of the cool kids if you do it. 

I'm not yet sure how I feel about that, and will have to think about it a bit -- look for some more thoughts over the weekend as I think them. I see both positives and negatives. For now, check out these links to get a better grasp on the situation, and I'd love to hear your feelings and feedback in the comments.

+Andy RubinThe Official Android blog; CNet; The Verge

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • If you want access to Google Play / Google Apps (all proprietary), then these are the sacrifices you have to make. Last I checked Google doesn't stop Samsung or HTC from making Windows Phones so it's not an anti-competitive move -- it's a move to stop diluting Android -- like Amazon has.
  • Nicely put. I agree
  • Exactly!!!! What's there to think about. They can't maintain a cohesive App ecosystem if everyone is forking the damn thing. There obviously fine with Amazon doing their own thing, well by the lack of criticism anyway. BTW this is one of the reason why I hate the Amazon App store, I have absolutely no desire to have two app store running with two separate accounts. I don't mind having a Firefox OS App store and Google Play because each would hopefully be offering something more than just vendor lock-in, which is all Amazon is. Makes no sense to me. /Rambling It's all good let's keep this train moving.
  • Its not truly 100% open then is it? Your in a walled garden, not as much as Apple, but still are, lets say in a fenced garden instead. Well I guess you aren't, but the hardware vendor is. And Samsung doing its own thing and HTC doing its own thing with like Sense and stuff its already a mess. Every phone I pick up is different when people bring them in for support. The worse being Motorola. Some might disagree, but I think HTC has the best layered UI as well as my co-workers.
  • Yes, it IS open! Android is open to anyone who wants to use it. However, if you want to be part of the OHA, one of the goals of which is COMPATIBILITY, then you have to play by the rules. Google didn't pull an Apple and threaten to sue if they used the incompatible fork. They just said that if you want to use it, and since it ISN'T compatible, then you will be cut off from OHA support and membership. The difference here is that Samsung and HTC are doing things that MAINTAIN COMPATIBILITY, therefore are not being warned. HUGE difference! Scott
  • Cashxx is an iOS fanboy. Why he lurks here only to criticize is beyond me. Inferiority complex? maybe. I used to use blackberry. Found the world of android and love it. I don't comment on blackberries problems/flaws/advantages because I no longer use it or care. Go enjoy your choice Cashxx and stop being a narcissistic troll.
  • I used to use Android and still have to support them so that is part of the reason why I lurk around here. The other part is to correct the false claims and bashing of Apple and iOS. Sorry you had to use the blackberry, anything is better to use than a blackberry. I was forced to use one as well for a year or two, if the iPhone wouldn't have been released we would still have the blackberry like hardware for blackberries and Android's too. Would be a fun exciting world!!
  • No offense, but why do you feel the need to "support" apple? Many on here are Android fanboys, and whether the bashing is true or not, why care? Both platforms sell well, and the continued growth of both only = better products for the consumer. Who cares what knuckleheads on the internet think? I for one hate iOS on a phone, and would never use it when Android is an option. No post of yours will ever disuade me from that. Whether the specific posts and rants are correct or not, and many of yours I've seen are looking to convince or convert people. Not going to happen, so not sure why you waste your energy in it.
  • What? Google has been working on Android since 2005, if ios was not around, there would still be android phones today, sorry to burst more ios bs that all iPhanboys believe
  • What? Google has been working on Android since 2005, if ios was not around, there would still be android phones today, sorry to burst more ios bs that all iPhanboys believe
  • The Android OS is freely available, 100%, for download from Google's servers. This download will give you all the code you need to install Android on any device for which you can get the hardware abstraction layer working. Android also allows installation of applications from outside of their app market, which is generally more what people are referring to when they say that Android is "open". With this "openness" comes some complications, especially when the Android OS is under constant attack from people who's argument is "it sucks" with no other details. To say that being open means that they can't implement any kind of conditions for a "compliance certification" is just silly. The need for this is *because* of the openness, not in spite of it. With the ability for anyone to take the Android OS and *literally* do anything they want to it, Google has to maintain some minimal standards to make sure that apps work reliably across these disparate platforms. This is why the OHA was formed. It's like the "Made for Windows" badging that you used to see on PC's all the time (probably still do, idk). They want people to know "this device will run all the apps designed for Android" and not have to deal with people complaining about things over which they have no control. The difference between the "walled garden" is that Google doesn't stop anyone for forking the OS or making changes, but they do say that, if you do, you can't claim your devices are 100% Android compatible. Now, cashxx, you're certainly free to have your own opinion, even if your opinion is that the iPhone is better than a phone running Android. You know full well that most of us here disagree, but that is why we're here and not on iMore. What you shouldn't be trying to do is to be posting "you people are wrong!" comments all the time, especially when you don't have your facts straight. You want to talk about "open" for a moment? Here's my definition of how Android is open, in so far as it concerns me: I run 3rd party apps for all of the following:
    * Launcher (on the iPhone, that would be the grid of icons)
    * Keyboard
    * Home/Car dock
    * Clock/alarm
    * SMS
    * Dialer
    * Contacts I also have the ability to backup applications and their data, meaning I don't lose saved games if an update requires a full wipe of phone (yes, I follow iPhone news as well and I know all about the fun people are having with the iOS 6 update). I can write my own apps and load them to my phone by plugging it into the USB port on my PC, or I can pass them out to friends. I run both the Google Play Store and the Amazon store on both my phone and tablet. And my apps are allowed to communicate with each other with the use of "intents" through the OS level itself. The inability of iOS to do this, by the way, is why iOS 6 users are currently suffering with the new Apple Maps. Android allows me to use my phone the way *I* want to use it. Not the way Apple thinks I *should* use it. That's my definition of open.
  • The big deal here is the recent rumors that Samsung will fork their own android. If this is Google policy, then I doubt Samsung will be able to do so without major repercussion. I see this as a good thing. It's a way Google can stop manufacturers forking too much while still in OHA.
  • The Samsung OS, while based in Linux is a proprietary OS.It should be fine, as long as it doesn't benefit from android apps running or advertising that android apps run on it. ( android apps I mean apps from Google play store).
    Is my understanding that the Alibaba OS, is an alteration of android at heart, as much as Amazon's OS. Amazon choose this path, and therefore, it does not benefit from OHA.
    If you want to benefit from OHA, then you cannot distribute a modified android device not 100% compatible to the guidelines. This not only Will prevent fragmentation, but will also avoid the use of the knowledge and benefits of being a member of OHA, to sail away from android. It is easy, you have to choose as a business model, either use android, or don't. But you cannot offer android and cloned android OS.
  • I will also point out that Amazon doesn't make any phone devices, only tablets.
  • Also, their tablets are marketed specifically as "extensible eReaders". And even, then, their OS conforms fairly closely to the guidelines, and 99% of all "pure" Android apps will run on the Kindle Fire. But the fact that they're not part of the OHA means they have more flexibility.
  • Something based on Linux is proprietary??? I don't think you understand GPL.
  • A lot of people don't realize anything you do, based on GPL code, requires you to release the source. That said, aren't their conditions for getting around this? I thought there were Linux distros that are "closed source". Could be wrong. Please clarify if you know.
  • Android is already too fragmented as is. If this move is working to reduce this issue then I say that it is necessary. Developers already have it tough enough trying to make all devices compatible across all versions of android that are floating around, the last thing they need is some custom android os that doesn't work with what was working fine on vanilla to tank their ratings.
  • You'd think Google would have given Acer a bit of a warning in advance instead of just 1 day before the press event? lol.
  • Acer should have known I'm sure they signed some sort of agreement when they joined the OHA in 2009.
  • Yep. As OHA members they have certain commitments to Android. HTC understands this. Samsung understands this. Amazon understands this -- that's why they aren't OHA members. Apparently Acer did not get the memo.
  • And what commitments are those?
  • Not fragmenting the Android ecosystem like Amazon and Aliyun has. For gods sake, they have pirated apps in their app store.
  • My take is that Google backs down. There is nothing in the Android alliance that says you can't release a phone on a different platform and still be a member by virtue of releasing phones for Android as well. If there were such a stipulation it would be an illegal restraint of trade. Illegal. Several manufacturers release windows phones on basically the same physical platform as their android offerings. So why single out Acer for a trip to the woodshed? This isn't the kind of publicity Android needs at this point. This throws more fuel on the fire, and pushes another manufacturer into Microsoft's camp. I guarantee Samsung doubled down on their plans to fork Android the minute they heard this news. Sure this specific phone gets no Play Store access. But that shouldn't mean Acer can't build phones for both platforms. Shouldn't mean that Acer can't release a pure Android version of the same phone. Shouldn't mean Acer is kicked out of what is supposed to be a community of partners. Google probably gets a call from the Justice department and the EU on this issue. They back down.
  • Bullshit, Motorola made quite few phones with modified android OS for Chinese market called Ophone, and they got away from it?
    (And no, it's not the phone called ophone, it's the os)
  • Interesting. IIRC China Mobile is the biggest carrier in China and a founding member of OHA. Ophone is their fork, not only Moto but Samsung also made oPhones.
  • The problem is not in creating a fork. The problem is when that fork cannot pass the Android "Compatibility Test Suite" that Google provides to make sure that all Android devices fully implement the Android API correctly. I don't know about Ophone, but Aliyun does not pass the compatibility test, which is the whole problem here.
  • I think what some people are missing is that it's not that Acer forked android, it's that as a member of the OHA they are supposed to keep their development open it sounds like Acer's fork may not have been and they were trying to play both sides of the field. In other words you can't join a club that says you are dedicated to sharing back developments and improvements while at the same time working on a product that's closed off without expecting to get kicked out of that club, it's not about stifling competition it's about making sure member companies keep up to their end of the bargain Also other forks like OPhone are distributed under open source licence and comply with the OHA's policies.
  • So HTC and Sony and Samsung can't work on closed off Windows phones at the same time as they are a member of the OHA?
  • They can, because that's not Android. Your comments show you clearly don't understand the article.
  • Icebike, it's not a question of "open or closed", it's compatibility. Acer is a part of the OHA, which requires by definition that they work to further the Android ecosystem as a whole. The Aliyun OS does *not* pass Google's Android Compatibility Test Stuite, meaning that apps written for Android may or may not work on Aliyun. While Google doesn't have a specific problem with people creating forks of this kind, by joining the OHA, Acer has made a commitment not to engage in promoting forks that do not properly implement the Android API. If they allowed Acer to put out phones that break Android compatibility, it hurts the app developers, which hurts the ecosystem. Google's not trying to stop Acer from releasing this phone. They're only saying that they can't claim their devices comply with the Android compatibility standards if they're going to release a phone that doesn't.
  • Like Jerry, I will have to think about this for a while. I don't know whether it is good or bad, overall.
  • Reading those: It seems this system.... or rether linux distribution have nothing to do with Android, it's distribution on it's own.... it's not even fork of Android and i would not compire this to Kindle which really is modified Android. It got it's own Android-runtime, since Android apps are Java you can run it on any Java VM as long you provide exacly the identical APIs (class, functions etc. names), same as some people experiment in Windows 8 for example: We don't know in what terms Acer joined OHA, but it seems that Google don't like seeing custom Android runtimes on diffrent OSes, maybe due risk that such runtime brings of branching of core APIs.
  • Not sure what there is to think about: Google releases Android opensourced and therefore fine with whatever people do with it, however, google wont and cant support You doing something else with it. Google significantly funds the OHA to drive a direction they want with benefits to members. If Acer doesn't want to follow the collective direction, they are no longer members at the level they want, and no longer should receive that level benefits. Why some are confused about motorola, htc, samsung, is that there are probably levels of membership (simplified): participation with no cash from google and participation with cash. The story is simply; Acer ignores google direction and potentially loses google's $$. I see no injustice here.
  • I'm confused. Google wants to stop the launch of Aliyun OS because it won't be able to run Android apps. If it is using the Android runtime why can't it run Android apps?
  • I don't know if I am misunderstanding what Jerry & Andy Rubin said, or not. Isn't Andy Rubin implying that this new OS was going to be built based on Android, but that the applications were going to use different APIs, thus making them incompatible with regular Android devices, and making regular android applications incompatible with the new OS? If that is what they are worried about, then I feel they have every right to play hardball. While there is some fragmentation in what apps can run on what phones right now, it's usually a minor thing causing the apps to not run. This sounds like it would be something else entirely. Like the ultimate in fragmentation. Even Amazon uses applications that work on the majority of Android devices, despite the fact that their own software is completely forked from the standard android build.
  • I understand your concerns. That is precisely what I think Rubin is saying. However, the Aliyun OS and Acer make NO mention of Android at all. Aliyun is an Android derivative that runs on the Linux kernel, according to its Wiki page. Hence, since no mention of Android is made, why the heck should Google care if it is incompatible with regular Android apps or not? Alibaba are certainly not marketing it as Android, nor are Acer, so the likelihood that consumers will get confused between the two is zero. If anyone has a rebuttal for this, please share. I think Google's gone too far with this, and have incurred the wrath of Acer in the process. Acer will leave OHA, leaving OHA highly destabilized. I think Samsung will also leave. Good for Google then.
  • Because Aliyun has the ability to run Android applications, but doesn't properly implement the Android API, so some applications will not run properly. And Alibaba has compared themselves to Android. Perhaps not with the marketing materials for this phone (which I haven't seen), but they have said that they want to be "the Android of China". I don't think Google was terribly pleased, either, that the Aliyun app store contained "pirated" versions of applications from the Google Play Store.
  • I think Google's position is crystal-clear. As a manufacturer you can release Android devices the Google way (like Samsung, HTC and LG), or release Android devices the non-Google way (like Amazon and the cheap craplet manufacturers) but you can't do both. You can even release devices with other OS's (Windows Phone, Symbian, Bada) alongside Google-blessed Android devices as long as said OS's don't claim compatibility with Android apps. Seems reasonable to me.
  • May seem reasonable to you, but it's not. Acer can release the same phone with stock Android in other markets an still be a member of the OHA.
    You can eat your cake with your fork as well as your spoon.
  • What are you even saying?
  • For the non-reading impaired its quite obvious. Acer can release phones to run Android OS.
    Acer can release phones to run the Aliyun OS.
    Acer can release phones to the Windows Mobile OS. Only one of those gets Acer tossed out of the OHA. (By a member who theoretically doesn't even have control of the OHA). Clearly Acer isn't asking Google for any help with their Windows Mobile products or their Aliyun products. HTC and Samsung didn't ask google to help for Windows Mobile products either. Aliyun is simply a different Operating system. Just like Winmo or webos. Acer expects the cooperation of Google and all other members of the OHA only for their Android phones and tablets. Yet Google is telling Acer that if they even talk to those Aliyun guys Google is going to kick them out of an association that Acer has every right to be in. That is called illegal restraint of trade in this country.
  • Thanks for the insult. Last I checked, Google decides who gets to be into the OHA. If Acer wants to violate those terms, they'll get kicked out. Aliyun is not a different OS -- it's a fork of Android. "Aliyun uses the Android runtime, framework and tools. And your app store contains Android apps (including pirated Google apps). So there's really no disputing that Aliyun is based on the Android platform and takes advantage of all the hard work that's gone into that platform by the OHA."
  • I think it's pretty clear cut too. Manufacturers still have the right to fork Android in any way they please, dragging it's name through the mud, and further confusing average consumer's perceptions of what the Android name actually stands for--just not with Google's branding/ support.
    Like it or not, the sloppier manufacturers are really, really ruining Android's reputation. Just take a look at Google Play's huge number of angry customer reviews, with single star ratings, and enough swearing to make some blush. They are almost never Nexus devices--in fact, the most frequent negative reviews I see come from users of the Acer "Picasso". Nearly every review I see from an Acer Picasso complains of compatibility issues. Now, Acer sold that tablet, made some money, but who is left tarnished and vulnerable at the end of the day? -Google's entire Android Ecosystem. You can tell that these users *actually* think the problem lies with Google and not Acer. They believe that it's an indication of Android's quality and stability. It's not fair, and in order for Android to survive, they need to be more strict with their standards.
    This has *no* effect on my ability to fork Android and use the code for whatever, but I cannot just build Android from source, slap it on any cheap hardware, and ride the coattails of it's brand name to the top. It's not their ecosystem to ruin. It wouldn't be fair to the companies who have actually worked hard, played by the rules, and have been a large part of Android's success. It affects every company using Android, and it's Google's job to enforce some quality standards.
  • Dude, the thing is, neither Alibaba nor Acer have mentioned the Aliyun OS as Android. Basically, NO mention of Android is made. As such, consumers perceptions of Android are not likely to be affected AT ALL.
  • Not sure how you feel about this?????? Are you kidding me? Google makes android, and gives it out FREE! If you are going to use it/tweak it/fork it, it still needs to be Android. In fact, I'm surprised that Google continues to allow Amazon to use it and fork it all up the way they do. As a business practice, it makes good sense for google to give it away, as long as it gets them money back somehow. IF somebody is going to take it, bork it all up so nothing works correctly. We will all lose in the end. Remember, it's a business, and if google doesn't make money on it, and the brand image is damaged, we all lose.
  • Android. Is. Opensource.
  • For now. That is google's choice and can flip the switch anytime they want. It's their business, and they own it. Just for the record, Honeycomb was NEVER open sourced. It's also only open sourced if you agree to the terms of the agreement. I know many people would suddenly cry a river of tears if it was no longer open source, but they can choose to do that at anytime. Don't kick a gift horse in the mouth.
  • From what I understand the source code for Honeycomb was released when ICS was released. They kept the code hidden to try and establish a standard for their new tablets, and didn't want people to try to put a tablet OS on devices it was never meant for. When ICS was released, it was designed for a wider variety of devices and thus it wasn't a big deal to put that on phones or tablets. So bottom line is Honeycomb was open sourced, just the code was not released right away. I'm not sure what the GPL's stance is on a time line for product's release vs. the source code's release (i.e. do they have to both be released at the same time?). One would thing that Google would follow the GPL to the letter considering they are one of the more high profile companies using it.
  • I will point out that the lion's share of Android is Linux (and a lot of other related open source/FOSS parts), NONE of which are "made" by Google. And no, they can't "flip the switch" on Android and make it totally proprietary. That would violate everything the GPL stands for, which Google must agree to in order to use the FOSS code.
  • No, they can't theoretically flip the switch but they can stop offering support and go the internal route of making their own phones like Apple. So just because it has to be opensourced doesn't mean Google can't clamp down and make it difficult for other manufactures to keep using it easily.
  • Point of fact: Anyone can branch Android as far as they want, but if they don't pass the Android Compatibility Test Suite, then they can't have Google certification which means no proprietary Google apps (Play, Maps, etc). Amazon is allowed to do whatever they like because they are not a member of the OHA, so they've made no "oath" to further a "single" Android ecosystem, and they don't claim their devices to be 100% Android compatible (even through they practically are).