Android Getting Less Open Sourcy

Having gained a staggering amount of market share with its open release of Android, Google now wants to exert some more control:

Playtime is over in Android Land. Over the last couple of months Google has reached out to the major carriers and device makers backing its mobile operating system with a message: There will be no more willy-nilly tweaks to the software. No more partnerships formed outside of Google’s purview. From now on, companies hoping to receive early access to Google’s most up-to-date software will need approval of their plans. And they will seek that approval from Andy Rubin, the head of Google’s Android group.

This is the new reality described by about a dozen executives working at key companies in the Android ecosystem. Some of those affected include LG, Toshiba, Samsung, and even Facebook, which has been trying to develop an Android device. There have been enough run-ins to trigger complaints with the Justice Dept., according to a person familiar with the matter. The Google that once welcomed all comers to help get its mobile software off the ground has become far more discriminating — especially for companies that want to include Google services such as search and maps on their hardware. Google also gives chip and device makers that abide by its rules a head start in bringing Android products to market, according to the executives.

For those invested in the Apple side of the weird, quasi-ideological online debate about cell phones this is an opportunity for gloating but I think it’s interesting to see the effort to put an influential piece of open source software into a business plan that’s clearer than “we earn huge profits on web search so we have plenty of money to waste.” After all, as I understand it what’s been released is still open source software. If someone out there has the ability to do a better job than Google of updating existing Android OS, then the field is open to them. Google’s leverage is its presumed expertise in doing updates to a product it created.