The Orange View (on hiatus) Because Apple is great but it isn't perfect


John Gruber’s hypocritical and off-base Google attack

Are you really open when you're open only when it suits you? The whole open source thing is supposed to be always open all the time. Trust in the magic of open source -- it will work out in the end.
-John Gruber, The Talk Show, March 30, 2011

“Open” is one of those terms that means a lot of different things to different people. Most should be able to agree, though, that open-vs.-closed is a continuum — shades of gray, not just black and white. A light enough shade of gray is “open”, dark enough is “closed”. The arguments are over where those thresholds lie.
-John Gruber, DaringFireball, May 14, 2010

It is getting tiresome to hear Apple fans, having long bashed Google's Android because "open" was bad, now bash Google for being somewhat less "open." I think John Gruber's piling on this week went over the top, leaving the realm of his usually sharp analysis and entering propaganda territory.

Most of the recent criticism, as Willy Wonka might say, is 2% accurate, 12% link bait, 98% hot air and 3% butterscotch ripple.

Let's start with the recent story that kicked off this wave of bitterness: Google will delay the release of the underlying source code of Android version 3.0 "Honeycomb" for a couple of months to make it more suitable for use on phones as well as tablets. Google said it was afraid the Android brand would be sullied by companies retrofitting the current tablet-focused Honeycomb code onto phones and providing a poor user experience.

To say that this delay means Android is no longer "open" makes about as much sense as saying that Apple's iOS is not "closed" because Apple regularly releases the source code of a few components. And Apple makes just as big a deal about the advantages of iOS being closed as Google does about the openness of Android.

As Gruber accurately said last year, you need to take a holistic view to determine what should be called "open" and what should be deemed "closed." Both Apple and Google are obviously trying to reap all the advantages they can while minimizing the disadvantages of each path.

Any fair observer would have to conclude that Android is still "open." Every version of Android's full source code except for the most recent is available to anyone who wants to tinker with it for free. Hardware makers can load any version of Android before Honeycomb on any device with any of their own additions for free. And the entire software developer kit for the latest version, Honeycomb, with all the OS's application programming interfaces, or APIs, has been made public for free. Developers can write all the programs they want with no approval needed from Google and no licensing fees owed.

Beyond simply the openness of the operating system software itself, Android also remains largely an "open" platform. Users can modify almost any aspect of their phones in ways that iPhone users cannot. Users can mount their phones as drives on one or more computers to upload or download whatever songs, movies or data they'd like without the kinds of lock-down imposed by Apple and iTunes. Most users and developers can also avoid Google's own application market and Google's share of fees if they so desire. And many users can even load wholly independent versions of Android onto their phones without needing to "jailbreak" the devices.

What has never been allowed -- and what Google apparently is getting tougher about -- is code tinkering by companies that have signed special licensing agreements so they can include Google's proprietary programs like Gmail and Maps or get access to Android code before it is released publicly. These contracts have always been about giving incentives to device makers to include Google products in return for giving up some control. The point of the tougher limits is to give Google more control to reduce fragmentation, reduce crapware and improve the user experience.

And, yes, mobile carriers suck and lock down some or all the open features I've described above (for example, AT&T users can't load apps outside of the Google market). But on the whole, on Gruber's continuum, Google continues to pursue an "open" Android strategy versus Apple's "closed" iOS world.

Both approaches have their merits and their failings. How about we focus on that instead of which system is open or closed?

UPDATE: Gruber just linked to the breathless, overhyped first paragraph of the Businessweek story above and dug himself in deeper: "Andy Rubin, Vic Gundotra, all of them: shameless, lying hypocrites."

Gruber's just piling on the stupidity. The license agreements for Google's own proprietary software have always limited device makers' freedom. And despite the broad strokes in the lead of the article, the actual facts reported are far more limited. Google gets to "review" tweaks to Android made by Facebook for a Facebook phone. Google has "tried to hold up the release" of Verizon phones that used Bing as a search engine.

The biggest joke is that the Businessweek article ends with a quote from Nokia CEO and former Microsoftie Stephen Elop saying that Android is no longer open and that's why he chose the more open Windows Phone 7. YIKES! Not good company, Mr. Gruber.

Posted by Aaron Pressman

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  1. Hardware makers can load any version of Android before Honeycomb on any device with any of their own additions for free.

    Bzzt. Wrong

    “Now manufacturers will be required to have Google approve any modifications that are made to the operating system, otherwise they will not get early access to develop on the platform. Google is trying to stem the tide of fragmentation with its platform, and it feels that this is the most effective way to do it.”

  2. Google didn’t market Android as being “more open” the iOS, which it is, they marketed it as being “Open”, period. And they were pretty smug about it to boot. It’s now going to get a lot harder to keep pushing that marketing message, which is all the rhetoric about openness ever was, while they continue to exert greater control and restrictions over the platform.

    The irony is I, and many other Android fans, have been hoping for Google to do exactly that for months now. But they’re going to get a lot of crap for it in the short term because they went around loudly advocating that TOTALLY open was superior to anything that wasn’t in every way possible. Clearly they’ve modified their stance on this, and again while I agree with it, it does have the faint whiff of hypocrisy about it.

  3. Great article, and I think you’re being very balanced against Gruber’s criticism, but I also think you’re missing Gruber’s main point. The point isn’t that “Android is not open enough,” it’s that Google’s claims about Android’s openness smack of bait-and-switch. The “openness” that Google claims is such a huge advantage of the Android platform, and the one you’ve outlined in this article, such as being able to tinker and make your own version of Android, is the kind of openness Google doesn’t actually provide in its early releases. I think it’s a fair argument that because Google doesn’t do things entirely in the open from Day 1, it’s not really an open platform. Or, put another way, you still need Google’s permission to be an early adopter, which does not sound like a truly open platform. For some, who are willing to pay the licensing fees and be beholden to Google’s standards, it’s more open than others. And yet, getting that early access comes with costs to freedom.

    Apple is more honest about its closed system. It doesn’t pretend, and doesn’t want people to believe, that you can publish whatever you want on the App Store or iOS is free to tinker with. This is the difference that Gruber is upset about between Apple and Google: that Google seems to be trying to play both sides of open and closed, and is therefore hypocritical in its approach, and Apple is being honest about its stance.

    I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as Gruber believes, but I don’t think you can call his criticism without merit.

    • I see your point. I mean, Apple has never made false claims about shortcomings in their products. Ever. They would never do something like wave around signal attenuation as an iPhone4 issue when the actual problem is the phone’s design allows the user to create an electrical short, which is not a problem other phones have.

      Oh wait.

      The fact is, in this case, Google’s move is an attempt to fix some genuinely damaging behavior by carriers and phone manufacturers that Android users (like myself) have been begging them to drag back in to line. When your actions are in line with your end users’ interests, end users will excuse minor violations of some of your platform’s features.

      Holding Apple up as some kind of paragon of virtue and claiming Google is guilty of a “bait and switch” is disingenuous and laughable on its face.

      • I wouldn’t call Apple a paragon of virtue. But I completely understand their values. By buying into their ecosystem, either as a user or a developer, I know exactly what I’m getting into.

        Based on this action, though, I have no idea what Google’s values truly are. Developing for or using their products based on previous assumptions is now slightly riskier than it used to be, for me personally.

        • “By buying into their ecosystem, either as a user or a developer, I know exactly what I’m getting into.”

          True in the user world, but there is one counterargument in the developer world, which is the approval process. From what I can tell Apple has improved turnaround and feedback mechanisms, but just recently a developer gave up after many months of back-and-forth with Apple on why his app wasn’t getting approved, and what he could do about it.

      • “The fact is, in this case, Google’s move is an attempt to fix some genuinely damaging behavior by carriers and phone manufacturers that Android users (like myself) have been begging them to drag back in to line.”

        Who decides what is genuinely damaging? Google? Doesn’t that make them a single point of failure? Why not let the market decide, and let carriers and handset manufacturers live or die accordingly? Isn’t that usually the argument against Apple’s so-called walled garden, vs. Google’s open one?

        • You make a very good point. Every attack on Apple by Android supporters references the idea that Android users are grownups that don’t need to be protected and that freedom is the order of the day. Freedom for manufacturers, freedom for users, freedom to download bad code and malware, freedom freedom freedom. Now, along comes Google and actually *uses* the kill switch that Apple was nearly vilified for merely having. Then they decide that the “One Man, One OS” system isn’t such a bad idea, forcing everyone who used to have unfettered access to Android to run everything thru Andy Rubin.

          And this is somehow not hypocritical?

  4. at least you’re talking about it

  5. Gruber is right and you are wrong. Especially about Rubin, Gundotra (a former professional liar for Microsoft) being lying hypocrites and lairs which they most assuredly are. Android has NEVER met the criteria of open source software. You would have to be really clueless or delusional not to know this. Now I’ll sit back and watch Gruber eat your silly post for lunch.

    • Google is hoist by their own petard. And the real delusional fanboys are now revealed.

      Apple’s store and OS was always Apple’s and everyone had to play by the rules and Apple had final say. This was obvious, open and simply the nature of the iOS beast from day one. And for this business model, Google and it’s supporters routinely denigrated the “draconian” control of Apple’s ecosystem, holding up the free, open and unfetterred nature of Android as inherently superior to Apple’s approach.

      Now where are we? Google has to use it’s kill switch, it’s OS is a fractured mess that, despite it’s numbers, means almost nothing to developers (except for developers enamored of making money third hand thru ads), no one android device sells in numbers that carry any weight, and the coup de grace, Google is going to attempt to put the genie back in the bottle and close down the Android source, a 180 degree turn that guts the core of the primary argument for the superiority of Android.

      There is no better word for this than hypocritical.

  6. Where did Gruber (or other Apple fans) claim than open is bad? I’d suggest most people who care would consider openness, in general, a virtue, but not necessarily an overriding virtue.

    If you can’t substantiate the first point, everything else is invalid.

  7. Given that Apple rules iOS development with an iron fist it is amusing to see so much fuss being made over Google’s recent decision to delay the HoneyComb sources general release.

    • 1) Not much fuss, compared to the ire directed at Apple…

      2) It’s not about Android not being open anymore, it’s about the hypocrisy.

    • Reams of digital ink were spilled foaming at the mouth at Apple’s “draconian” Kill Switch. Google actually had to use theirs.

      Apple’s consistent user experience is routinely denigrated as treating users like children. Now Google has decided that it too is going to squash the myriad of device specific versions of Android to have a common user experience.

      And you don’t realize how ridiculous this makes all of those who bought Google’s propaganda about “open” and “free” actually look?

  8. Most of you fail at reading comprehension.

  9. Gruber is off his rocker. Not that anyone is surprised, but his extreme bias is really now laid bare.

    What’s worse (pointed out by Gruber himself no less) is that “open” is a word. He’s essentially arguing semantics. It’s a worthless debate. Customers do not go into a carrier store asking to see the open source phones. Fragmentation is the same thing, although the effects of fragmentation can be felt by users to some extent (not as much as some believe or argue).

    If he really supported the Apple model, he should be applauding this decision rather than deriding it. However, what the “liars and hypocrites” sentence really does is cement John Gruber’s place as an unofficial/official mouthpiece for Apple’s marketing department. It’s a shame he had to resort to personal attacks in order to relay that message.

  10. There’s no doubt Gruber is a rusted on Apple fan who really gets what has made Apple the mega success it is today. His weakness is his analysis — which is usually okay — is informed by his prejudices and he takes Steve’s battles (eg: Flash campaign & I totally support Apples position on that) as personal directives to crusade on.

    He’s still reporting the minutiae of Flash not appearing on Android devices. We all know Flash is going to die a slow death, Apple has just to much eyeball-share for it not to and the HTML5 effort (that _is_ open btw and Apple played the lead hand in getting it happening despite WC3 indecision).

    Flash move by Apple was a mate-in-three, that’s why conservative old Adobe went so uncharacteristically ape-shit via it’s employees, hey we just spent up big time for that! Oh well at least Adobe killed her major competitor in the Pro Graphics market so they can charge whatever for incremental yearly updates for the next decade.

  11. “It is getting tiresome to hear Apple fans, having long bashed Google’s Android because ‘open’ was bad”

    No Apple fans ever bashed Android because “open was bad.” Large parts of the OS X/iOS operating system are open source as well as the development tools.

    • This is a common refrain amongst the Google brainwashed, and we can see now that the writer simply hasn’t a clue when it comes to the way Google has portrayed itself.

      Google and Android supporters routinely bashed Apple, Steve Jobs and the iOS for being closed source, for being “draconian”, for being inferior purely because Apple calls the shots.

      Meanwhile, Android and Google are portrayed as “open” “free” and therefore superior to Apple’s closed approach. As with all doublespeak, it’s now incumbent upon Google defenders, in light of Google locking down it’s “open” and “free” OS, to invent a false history where it’s Apple that routinely assailed Google’s model, instead of what actually occurred. It can be assumed that the embarrassment of Google’s 180 degree turn on “open” and “free” is plain for all to see. ANd so the damage control begins.

  12. ‘Any fair observer would have to conclude that Android is still “open.”‘

    Nonsense, drivel, pish and tosh. Android has never been a proper open source project. They throw some code over the wall every now and then (lately it seems that it’s not ‘now’, but in some unforseeable future), but there is no open development, so it is not something that the FOSS world would recognise as open.

    Note that there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s Google’s project, they can do run it how they like, but they shouldn’t make deceptive claims about it. Claiming it has ever really been open has always been stretching the truth – now the stretch has passed the elastic limit.

    One hopes Android will continue to develop quickly and that it will continue to nip at the heels of iOS to keep spurring Apple’s innovation.

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