Android isn’t evil, it’s just not as awesome


Andreas Constantinou has written one of the most interesting blog posts about Android that I’ve read in a long while; he argues its claim to being open source is not only suspect, but that the platform’s relative success has very little to do with it. The following are my own thoughts.

It’s not as open

Years ago I wanted a Qtopia device, a chocolate-bar form factor phone made by the Qt framework folks. I was on the mailing lists for the OpenMoko phone for years as it missed deadline after deadline. The Neo1973 looked like a boat anchor, complete with an awkward handle for tying rope onto its frame.

For a sizable part of the 2000s I was a Mac user but longed to move to entirely free and open source systems because it was the "right thing to do", but as with many FLOSS efforts I gave up when they failed to deliver on promises.

When Android was announced my hopes were renewed, but as it quickly became clear it’s advertised openness wasn’t as clear cut as we were led to believe, as Andreas painstakingly points out. This has led to a few discussions personally on Twitter asking whether Apple’s unabashed "play by our rules or leave" approach is more honest than Google’s "we’re all about openness" when there are even parts of their own systems that are off limits.

That said, I have no problem acknowledging they’re light years ahead of Microsoft, and as consumers in general we’re far better off with Android being the generic OS for phone makers than WiMo with either a creaky old codebase or a UI design that’d look great… in print!

It’s not really original

Prior to the iPhone, the Android prototype looked like a Blackberry, right down to the tiny keys and the layout of the user interface. Fast forward a few years and aside from some awkward slide-out keyboards and trackballs that even most Android users claim is utterly unnecessary, Android devices look like iPhones with a few more buttons. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but one can hardly claim Android is original in any really meaningful way.

Daniel Eran Dilger wrote a brilliant piece in Roughly Drafted recently about the upcoming Android 2.2 software and how if Apple released something akin to it people would be up in arms.

While Apple has taken a public beating for being slow to deliver some significant features of the iPhone OS, including last year’s copy and paste or this year’s multitasking, it’s less well known that Android is missing key features that everyone just assumes it must have.

I still want one

While acknowledging the iPhone is a superior device in terms of usability, security and design, the nerdy part of me would still love to have an Android device, and not just so I’d have an icebreaker with Gina Trapani who I have a mad crush on.

One of the more limiting aspects of the iPhone [for me] is not being able to automate tasks that I would otherwise fire up a shell and hack away at on a desktop. Having a Python interpreter (or even just basic shell scripting) on a phone would be an absolute slice of heaven, and I know that Apple will never allow it on my current device. I could imagine Apple doing an environment for the iPhone OS at some point in the future, but I’d still prefer being able to write some scripts that use APIs for the phone, text messages, email and so on, then upload them to the phone. There’s so much stuff I repeat everyday that the phone itself could do for me.

All that said, having done no research into this I have no idea an Android device would allow me to much (or any) of this either, but I suppose if they didn’t I could roll my own custom firmware… that is, if Google allows it.

It’s 3am and I’m writing about phones. I should be asleep, dreaming about them instead. Hey, wait.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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