Android Inc. was founded in October 2003 by Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears and Chris White in Palo Alto, California. As Rubin said, they wanted to make “smarter mobile devices that are more aware of its owner’s location and preferences”.
As Google saw potential in this open source project, it started investing in at-the-time small firm with group of tech-visionaries and later on, bought the firm in 2005.
Now, only 9 years later, we all know what Android is. It is the most commonly used mobile operating system in the world. It runs on over a billion mobile devices (mobile phones and tablets) and it’s app store, Google Play, has more than a million registered applications and over 50 billion downloads. Now those numbers are big and hard to imagine but, it is a lot. Popularity is undeniable. So is reputation. People simply love it. There are actually 3 main mobile (smartphone) operating systems on the scene currently: 1. iOS, 2. Windows Phone, 3. Android. Each has its own advantages. I think two of Android’s most front row are “Open Sourceness” and customization.
Now, as name “Android Open Source Project ” already reveals the openness of its nature, here is a quote that just acknowledges the fact: “Android is an open-source software stack for a wide range of mobile devices and a corresponding open-source project led by Google.” I will refer to this statement later on.
Majority of people like android as is. They perhaps change/add a few widgets on their home screen (ahhh yes, widgets… sweet little feature of Android) change the wallpaper and ringtones and the story pretty much ends here. But there still is a fair percentage of people who are aware of the control they can have over their OS. But first, you must gain that omnipotent control. And you do that by rooting your super-smart electronic friend.
Rooting your device gives you ability to preform actions on OS that require administrative privileges. But doing so, you void your warranty in many – most cases (all though there are some warranty safe methods as well are unroot methods…)). Why is this “prohibited”? Because you can mess up your phone if using root in wrong way and for wrong reasons, although I think it is impossible to brick-permanently ruin your device but we won’t get into that, it is not the point I am trying to expose today.
Rooting is definitely fun. You can over/underclock your device, install apps that require root etc etc.. But for some, fun does not stop there. As Android is open source, people can make changes to it on their own. So there we have custom ROMs. Those are personalized versions of original OSs put on their phone by OEMs (original equipment manufacturer). Manufacturers like to put their own “skin” on top of the so called “Vanilla” Android. Vanilla as raw version of Android is not themed. But smartphone manufacturers like to put themed versions on their phones so they are more… unique, distinguished.
Samsung has it’s own very well -known TouchWiz, HTC has Sense, LG’s Optimus UI and so on. Some people love it, some people hate it. But as Android is open source and people make changes to OSs like I said above, we have a freedom of choice. We can decide to put (flash) other custom ROMs on our phones – Open Source! Apple iOS for example, it’s a no-go.
Well that is just great, except, there is a little trick that draws many people back. It’s the warranty. You loose your warranty if you want to replace original OS with, to you more likable, suitable version. With many phones this is the case. I own an HTC One X for example and once I unlocked bootloader, there is no way to lock it back so it is not clearly visible that device was “hacked”. So now, when my screen is experiencing some trouble I can not use my warranty.
How open source Android is?
I got involved in a debate with a friend of mine just about that. And he pointed out: “If you buy an HP computer and put another OS on it, lets say Open Source Ubuntu Linux, distribution and afterwards experience trouble with motherboard, no one will say: “You installed Ubuntu whereas Windows was originally installed so your warranty does not count”. At least they shouldn’t… So why does this apply to Android phones even though it is suppose to be specifically open source.
Well Android Open Source Project team by Google never “rejected” warranty (as far as I know) as the quote stated above prevents them to. It is the OEM who is the “annoying orange” here. And when something goes wrong, you take your phone to your carrier or in case of prepaid telephone you go to OEM service and they decline warranty…
It is HTC who lock their bootloader to prevent flashing Custom ROMs even though they provide you with the unlock token (code) to do just that, on their very htcdev web page. And it is Samsung who put new KNOX system on phones for the very same reason, under pretext of being a security feature. It might also be, but damn, how many people are raging over KNOX.
So yes, Android is open source, but I can not say I agree with idea, that smartphone firms are taking the possession over something they don’t own. I see this like I would start charging for the air people around me breathe. Not a perfect analogy but you know what I mean…
I also understand manufacturers and their side of the story though. Leaving costumers totally free hands with their phones and the next thing you know is a ton of “bricked” phones on repair claiming warranty. But I think this does not justify the fact that they are “possessing un-possessionable”.
I love the idea Motorola (GoogO’rola) did with its Moto X Develper edition. They allow unlocking bootloader. At least give me the freedom of choice between your OEM themed & bloated version of Android and stock Vanilla Android. Like Oppo for example who did exactly that with its new Oppo N1 which comes with CyanogenMod (most popular version of “custom” android) pre-installed so user can choose. You can choose to use their themed ColourOS or stock Android theme. Well 2 choices is better than no choice at all, so it is big step forward.
I think things are slowly moving into right direction and I would love to see others follow Motorola and Oppo.
Give us the choice! Let Android be more open source, don’t lock it down, OEMs, there are ways so we could both be happy (vendors and us, customers).