Some of the biggest news in tech for a little while has to be Google’s acquisition of Motorola. It was a piece of news that came completely and utterly out of the blue. With the way that Microsoft and Apple had been trolling the various Android manufacturers, tension had begun to grow around the Android ecosystem and questions about the sustainability and longevity of it’s life were being asked. Google released a statement that basically told everyone watching to remain calm and that Android would be fine. Obviously knowing that such a masterful roll of the dice was poised, it was indeed a statement that held a lot of weight and a lot of developers, manufacturers and fans are all breathing a sigh of relief.
The intentions behind the acquisition are still murky and perhaps that adds to the strength of the position that Google now find themselves in. It goes without saying that the strength of Android is the sheer diversity of the experience, I’m not just talking about the various flavour of ROMs but the fact that it’s managed to unite various fans of various manufacturers behind a single operating system. But if Google were to start making handsets, surely they’d alienate the strength that is Android, i.e. the myriad of devices. Do they really wanna do that? As such, you have to question whether or not it’s worth the risk? The question here, it what happens to the manufacturing business. I believe it’d be silly not to sell it off, the value of Motorola was the patents and the phone business which has seen shakier times of late can be sold off in parts minus the patent to the various manufacturers that have committed to Android.
Google took their sweet time creating this new found Android strength and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, alas it’s better late than never. It’s a mistake that they’ve worked to rectify. The same can’t be said for their biggest and most glaring mistake which has essentially been the decable of Android 3.x (Honeycomb). It’s pulled into question Google’s commitment to open. For the reality is that Android was adopted, especially by early-adopters as a feasible alternative to a modern smartphone operating system (Apple’s iOS) and in failing to follow through on promises of openness, there’s some real concerns growing about Google’s commitment to openness. At the point of writing this article for example, it’s still impossible to find a link to the source-code of Honeycomb.
Sadly there’s not much out there in terms of alternatives. Samsung has Bada on offer, which is for all intents and purposes a solid operating system. However, it is sadly a ways behind Android in all aspects including the all important one of Apps. Something which Blackberry still seem to have their head buried in the sand over despite being forced to lay off employees as a result. The keyword here is adoption and both Blackberry and Bada fall short of the mark. Whether they like it or not, users conversations about phones often revolve around what Apps are available and being the only platform without say Angry Birds for example only alienates current users and does nothing to attract new ones.
The great-white hope is undoubtedly MeeGo, however with Nokia’s abandonment, is there really much hope? There were rumours of both Sharp and LG releasing a MeeGo phone each. And Nokia, though they pretend otherwise have received nothing but high-praise for their MeeGo phone. However, the deal signed with Microsoft and overseen by their current Microsoft-minded and ex-Microsoft employee of a CEO, means that MeeGo was never gonna get a fair shot by Nokia. That said, MeeGo remains in there with a fair chance, they just have to go about it in the right way, if they can’t get manufacturers to adopt and commit to a line of MeeGo handsets, why not do what Linux does, go the slow but long route? Why not force adoption by the manufacturers after the fact? I’m always surprised when I’m at a party and I see someone pull out their phone only to notice it’s running a non-standard ROM like CyanogenMod or Android Revolution HD or MIUI. Right now, MeeGo doesn’t have the drivers to run on all the phones that those ROMs do, not officially at least, but how about less officially? ‘homemade’ releases running drivers borrowed from Android? Could that work? After all, the more demand for these things could push the manufacturers to look into making this experience available via official means.
Even Mozilla has chimed in on the operating system front, wanting to take on Android in what can only be described as in a ChromeOS flavour. This of course has raised quite a few eyebrows as ChromeOS is struggling to prove both it’s relevance and demand. The sad reality is that while there is enormous potential for Web Apps, that potential has not even begun to be realised. Mozilla’s flavour has been at least tentatively dubbed Boot 2 Gecko (B2G) and was met by community insiders with a diverse range of reaction. Some excited for the vision and cause, but many others sceptical. Some like myself believe that the resources going into B2G would be better spent elsewhere within the development sphere and were promptly reminded that not everyone works on everything. However with Firefox 8 recently signed off with Tab Groups (Panorama) in a still incomplete state along App Tabs and the Open Web Apps Labs Experiments seemingly fallen by the wayside, why would you spend man hours on a project like this when the Flagship products implementation of Web Apps currently feels so half-arsed?
Rumours are going around that before the end of the year, we’ll get to see Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.x) from Google. The aim of Ice Cream Sandwich is to unify the experience between smartphone and tablet. As such, you have to wonder if we’ll actually be allowed to get our hands on the source code for this one. Or whether or not the source code for Honeycomb will ever surface. Apple too has gone to work on unifying the experience between their various platforms. Their latest incarnation of OSX borrows heavily from the iPhone/iPod/iPad experience and we’re lead to believe that the next incarnation will further unify the experience. Microsoft seem to have made the single experience a real priority with Windows 8. They’ve taken the good work started with Windows 7 and given it a Windows 7 jacket. What was once a mouse-orientated experience seems to be firmly committing to touch. And to be honest, what I’ve seen of this thus far, it seems to be work getting excited about.
So I ask again, why with all that’s happening in the world of Operating Systems, if Mozilla trying to get involved now? Some of my disappointment at least stems from the fact that I believe Mozilla should be chucking their weight behind the truly open MeeGo rather than the superficially Android. MeeGo had a healthy patent folio behind it in the form of it’s founding partners Nokia, Intel, AMD and Novell. And all it’s a fantastically polished OS to boot. All it needs is the Apps and the handsets. It’s already been designed to run on Tablets as well as Netbooks too. It’s everything that Mozilla’s B2G could hope to achieve in the next five years. However, it’s not web based and perhaps that’s where the problem lies. But I believe, the days of consumers mass adopting web based Apps are a long way off. Even on an Island as small as Britain, we don’t have 100% coverage and the percentage of coverage significantly drops if we’re limiting that to 3G. MeeGo is the hope for the future and Mozilla needs to get it’s house in order before thinning it’s resources in such a way. Android is a good start, but I believe we can be more open than that. At least I can hope.