No one wants Android to lose its openness entirely. But if Google reined in some aspects of its famously free and easy approach to its OS, not only would the platform benefit. Us Fandroids would win too. Here's why a clampdown really would be for best for everyone.
1 Get updates out quicker
Gingerbread, albeit in vanilla form, landed back in December 2010 on the Google Nexus S. It’s now four long months later and UK owners of massive-selling – not to mention top of the range - kit such as the Desire range and the Galaxy S are still waiting for their first taste.
The main cause of the delays (standard network testing, aside) is the time it takes phone makers to get their bespoke interfaces to work with the additional features that a shiny new Android iteration brings.
Introducing a centralised screening process for skins with Google at the core would identify potential compatibility problems before they even arose. And for us, it’d mean an end to those tortuous waits to get the most all-singing, all-dancing version of the platform on our phones.
2 Kill off sub-par UIs
While HTC’s Sense custom skin added something new and rather ace to Android, other phone makers' user interfaces weren’t so welcome. Motorola’s Motoblur was a case in point. Not only was it unintuitive. It also slowed down what would otherwise be a nippy bit of kit.
If, as was originally proposed, Google insisted on running the rule over UIs before approving them, Motoblur would never have happened. Meanwhile, genuinely innovative tweaks like Sense would be greenlit stat. In short then a filter for UI’s would keep the good and omit the bad. Not even the most committed open source idealist can argue that’s a bad thing, right?
3 More quality apps
Android Market is growing at a rate of knots and is now up to 200,000 titles. But how many of the new additions are of any quality?
Some degree of testing is definitely in order, at least. I mean, I love an old console emulator as much as the next man. But I like them even more when they don’t crash every two seconds. And I like them even less when you pay £6.99 per them only to find they don’t work with your phone…
The early success of Amazon’s appstore suggests Fandroids are only too keen to get on board with a more ordered market, too.
4 Put the kybosh on malware
Remember back at the start of the decade when consumers were frightened to use their credit cards online? We do. And we also remember some innovative sites going under for that very reason. Boo.com is a perfect example.
What that ought to tell us is that customers want to shop in confidence. And what it ought to tell Google is that the malware scare that happened in the Android Market recently must not be allowed to become commonplace. If so, it risks making the store a no-go area.
To Google’s credit, it acted pretty fast to remotely remove the infection from the estimated 200,000 smarties affected. But who wants to shop somewhere where you might pick up something nasty and data-mining along with your lovely new apps? Not me. That’s for damn sure.
5 It'd maintain the Android brand
It might not look it, but Google’s battle to get to the top of the smartphone tree has been long and hard. But if shonky handsets keep on coming, it could undo a lot of that work quicksmart and do real damage to its standing among smartfans.
Examples? The too-small-to--be-a-tablet-but-too-big-to-be-a-smartphone Dell Streak, for instance, was a brick and a half that even an update to Froyo couldn’t fix. Sanyo’s Zio went one worse, teaming an incredibly sluggish virtual keyboard with performance that verged on the geriatric.
If you’d bought one of these handsets, it’s odds-on you’d be so chastened by the experience that you might never choose Android again. That’s something Google really needs to guard against and it can only do that by taking a leading role in guiding phone makers in how to make the most of its platform.
6 It'd encourage devs to develop for Android
In a recent survey conducted by Baird, fragmentation of Android was described as a problem by 86 per cent of devs. That’s because, unlike say Rovio, so few have the time and resources to ensure their apps are compatible with so many different specc’d devices.
Tackle fragmentation, though, and they’ll come flocking. And we may even see a change in the current situation whereby iPhone users pretty much always get the best apps first…
7 The clampdown on phone makers wouldn't be draconian anyway
The way that some people carried on you’d have thought Google had turned to the dark side and that custom skins were going for good. Not a bit of it.
In reality, they’re not extending their jurisdiction in a hard and fast way. They’re just going to be more active in providing input into customisations and getting involved with proposed tweaks at an earlier stage.
8 And devs can work with it
Google could easily vet its own app store, while leaving third-party markets to be as free, easy and open as they like. That way users can take their chances with third-party markets if that’s what they want to do, but can restrict their purchases to Android Market if they’re concerned about security lapses. Simples.
9 Licensing money would offset app revenue shortfall
If Google started to charge phone makers for using its platform, it could afford to trim the cut it takes from app sales from 30 per cent to 20 per cent. In so doing, crucially it’d undercut Apple.
Just as importantly, though, it’d likely prompt a deluge of devs flocking to get on board the Android app gravy train…
10…especially for Honeycomb tablets
Tablets stand and fall by their apps. Right now, the iPad is killing Android tablets, with just 20 apps available that take advantage of Honeycomb last time we counted. Giving devs a larger cut would be the best way of changing that quickly.
10.5 No-one cares about openness anyway
…Except open-source evangelists and idealists. Ask the man in the street and there’s a better than even chance that he wouldn’t know an open platform from a walled garden. All he cares about is whether his phone works or not.