Small firm claims Google's Android "openness" is a facade

Let's say you're one of the largest players of a certain technology sector, be it computers or portable devices - specifically, your company authors software that goes on them. Let's also assume your product managed to build up an ecosystem around it, with different manufacturers taking your product and building their own designs with some reference specifications you provide them. Say a smaller competitor comes along and tries to compete with some bundled feature of your product. Would you be tempted to shut it down? If you've got enough money and wield enough influence for the manufacturers your product goes to - you sure as heck would, if you can get away with it, of course.

Sound familiar? That was what got Microsoft in trouble a decade ago when they successfully managed to destroy Netscape in the first round of the browser wars. But now we're hearing that Google is trying the same tactic as well for Android, except they're a bit more successful in hiding this fact. Google's perceived openness shines amongst consumers when they're presented with a choice of application stores to use, with little restriction on what can or cannot make it onto the device. The OS itself allows for a degree of customization.

There are a large number of manufacturers who develop devices around the Android operating system. But according to the New York Times (via DailyTech), smaller service providers angrily beg to differ in regards to Google's openness. Case in point: Skyhook.

Skyhook specializes in providing accurate location finding services by combining Wi-Fi hotspots, GPS, and cell phone towers. It's similar to what Google has now, but Skyhook had this unique combination first. Apple used Skyhook's services for iOS after dropping Google's in 2008, until last year when they began maintaining their own database for newer iOS devices.

Ironically, despite the closed nature of Apple's ecosystem, Apple still continues to honour their contract with Skyhook by paying for the use of their services on older iOS devices. Google, on the other hand, bullied Skyhook around. Google's ability to exercise strongarm tactics on their Android device partners resulted in manufacturers terminating their contracts with Skyhook, as their lawsuit against Google alleges.

The most glaring example was a deal Skyhook made with Motorola and Samsung last year in April to put Skyhook's technology on their devices. Google wasn't pleased, and threatened handset makers with compatibility compliance investigations, which may make them ineligible to produce or sell any Android devices, should they use Skyhook's services. Both companies reluctantly obliged and severed their contracts in July.

The emails published in the ongoing lawsuit showed Google managers using the "confusion" and "inferior" arguments to explain their reasoning for disallowing third party replacements to some of Android's core services. To prove their point, they compared location accuracy between Google's and Skyhook's services in the San Francisco Bay Area. The results of their tests showed a slight edge for Google's free service.

The emails also revealed how Google took a page out of Microsoft's antitrust troubles by being careful of what information they share with each other electronically. One email from a partner manager to a colleague regarding Skyhook read, "PLEASE DO NOT [forward details]! Thread-kill and talk to me off-line with any questions."

Image Credit: DigitalRendezvous

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26 Comments

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Well I will sound like the Google fan boy here but what does that have to do with openness ?? you can still download the OS and as Rubin tweeted, that's the definition.

Now are they trying to be competitive you bet... is that the prettiest form of competition, no, but come on... I could post the links to dozens of articles blaming Android fragmentation which is due to the fact that manufacturers can do what they want.

GPS providers feel the heat because they cannot sell overpriced products anymore, I am not the one who will complain.

Ikshaar said,
Well I will sound like the Google fan boy here but what does that have to do with openness ?? you can still download the OS and as Rubin tweeted, that's the definition.

Now are they trying to be competitive you bet... is that the prettiest form of competition, no, but come on... I could post the links to dozens of articles blaming Android fragmentation which is due to the fact that manufacturers can do what they want.

GPS providers feel the heat because they cannot sell overpriced products anymore, I am not the one who will complain.

The problem is Google wants the best of both worlds. They used the "open" mantra to get all these manufacturers to use it in the first place, because they could change it and essentially do what they wanted with it and not pay any licensing fees (that I am aware of).

Now that Android is massive, Google is starting to exert control over these Manufacturers so that they can exploit the marketshare of Android for their own gains (the Google services/ad revenue).

They're doing this by saying the manufactuers can't use the "Android compatible" logo/marketing if they don't comply with their terms (and the marketplace I'm assuming). This is the exact same thing Apple does. You can sell the iPhone but it's under our terms. Now manufacturers can sell "Android" devices as long as it is under Google's terms.

Depending how far Google takes this strongarming it could be a turn off to some manufacturers in the end.

DomZ said,

The problem is Google wants the best of both worlds. They used the "open" mantra to get all these manufacturers to use it in the first place, because they could change it and essentially do what they wanted with it and not pay any licensing fees (that I am aware of).

Now that Android is massive, Google is starting to exert control over these Manufacturers so that they can exploit the marketshare of Android for their own gains (the Google services/ad revenue).

They're doing this by saying the manufactuers can't use the "Android compatible" logo/marketing if they don't comply with their terms (and the marketplace I'm assuming). This is the exact same thing Apple does. You can sell the iPhone but it's under our terms. Now manufacturers can sell "Android" devices as long as it is under Google's terms.

Depending how far Google takes this strongarming it could be a turn off to some manufacturers in the end.

Except, it was clear since the beginning that Google was doing Android to promote its own services, and the use of Goggle services require compliance with some of Google terms.

Arguing that Google should let anyone use their services (mail, maps, market, navigation, etc...) for free without any condition is naive and hypocritical. I am perfectly glad that Google says ok if you want to use our services (for free!!!) these are the conditions.

Ikshaar said,
Well I will sound like the Google fan boy here but what does that have to do with openness ?? you can still download the OS and as Rubin tweeted, that's the definition.

Now are they trying to be competitive you bet... is that the prettiest form of competition, no, but come on... I could post the links to dozens of articles blaming Android fragmentation which is due to the fact that manufacturers can do what they want.

GPS providers feel the heat because they cannot sell overpriced products anymore, I am not the one who will complain.

Just to be obvious here: would you feel the same way if it was Microsoft doing this?

WickedScribbler said,

Just to be obvious here: would you feel the same way if it was Microsoft doing this?

I don't know, I have never encounter any Microsoft open source product did you ??

Max Norris said,

Not that it's relevant to this article, but a few.
http://www.microsoft.com/opensource/directory.aspx

As repeated more than a few times above though, it's not about the source code.


But it is, because that's how Google defined being open. You guys seem to be missing that Google is playing within the rules they have defined for themselves not the rules you think they should be playing by.

Google is far from the 'Do no evil' mantra. They make liasons and strategic associations with other companies only to later create services and products that will compete and crush these liasons. For instance, they associated with Apple, then created their own iPhone killer, associated with Firefox, then created their own browser. If Google wants to make business with you, brace yourself, they won't end up buying you, like Microsoft; they will probably create a service or product that will kill you.

Charles Keledjian said,
If Google wants to make business with you, brace yourself, they won't end up buying you, like Microsoft; they will probably create a service or product that will kill you.

LOL... just picturing some Google staff making a business deal then whipping out the sawn-offs *BAM BAM!* "That's the Google way, SUCKER!"

Charles Keledjian said,
Google is far from the 'Do no evil' mantra. They make liasons and strategic associations with other companies only to later create services and products that will compete and crush these liasons. For instance, they associated with Apple, then created their own iPhone killer, associated with Firefox, then created their own browser. If Google wants to make business with you, brace yourself, they won't end up buying you, like Microsoft; they will probably create a service or product that will kill you.

How is being competitive in business equated to being evil? The state of being evil suggests a missing moral aptitude, I fail to see how anything previously mentioned has anything to do with morality. Additionally, Google has never claimed that it's an open company, merely that Android, their OS is open source. Up until their announcement today about Honeycomb, that was 100% true. It should be noted that the next iteration of the OS, Ice Cream Sandwich will have it's source released.

UndergroundWire said,
I think everybody knows this. The point is that they are more open than Microsoft and Apple are.

Neither Microsoft nor Apple claim to be open. The point is Google do.

UndergroundWire said,
I think everybody knows this. The point is that they are more open than Microsoft and Apple are.

The only thing Google opened was the OS, the rest remains closed (Gmail, GoogleDocs, GTalk, Maps, etc..). They commoditized the core of the OS but the vast majority of Google products are closed source and closed to external developer extensibility. And as someone already pointed out, this is odd behavior from a company that claims to be open.

Also not sure what all this "open" talk gets end users outside of a hot mess of an end user experience?

bob_c_b said,
Also not sure what all this "open" talk gets end users outside of a hot mess of an end user experience?

The average end user is stupid (from my experience). When Google says open, the end user thinks trust worthy. It then becomes a marketing term in my opinion.

When talking to a developer, open means custom ROMs, custom Kernels, an open market (the way it should be).

bugsbungee said,

Neither Microsoft nor Apple claim to be open. The point is Google do.

Google never claimed to be 100% open either. When you agree to the Android Market ToS, they specifically mention that the Android Market and it's products, Gmail, YouTube, etc... are not open sourced. So Google is the bad guy because people don't know how to read or make stupid assumptions?

The problem isn't that their IPs aren't open, it's that they don't allow competing services on their open platform. It's analogous to having a party and saying anyone can come, except anybody who you don't like.

Anyone watching the state of Honeycomb, and Google's weak excuse, already realized that.

Having said that, it's OK not being open too. It's just a different business model, and nothing more dramatic than that. It's only a real problem when the company in question still claims they're remaining open.

" threatened handset makers with compatibility compliance investigations, which may make them ineligible to produce or sell any Android devices"

This really caught my eye, are Google basically looking the other way on handset compatibility until they need to bully a manufacturer?

But to be honest not surprised by any of this.

Not surprised although its interesting to see a company making the declarations rather than just a bunch of users.

the better twin said,
Is anyone actually surprised by this?
Anyone who actually takes their "Dont be evil" mantra seriously is deluded
That mantra hasn't been applicable for some years now.