Open(ish) Handset Alliance

A storm’s a brewin’ over in the Android world. I don’t typically get involved in disputes within the Android community because it’s none of my business and because I mostly don’t know what I’m talking about. However, this is very interesting to me. And you know what? Sometimes it’s the people who aren’t afraid of being ridiculed for their ignorance of the facts that point out the really obvious questions that no one else thinks of.

So here we go.

From what I can gather, Acer wanted to release a phone with an OS based on Android, call Aliyun. Turns out, Aliyun apps don’t run on vanilla-flavoured Android.

This is the key problem.

Most variants of Android, like the ones that hardware OEMs ship with their phones, operate according to certain, agreed-upon rules of the Open Handset Alliance. It’s a group of OEMs, software developers, and other interested parties who have agreed for the sake of interoperability that apps consumers buy on their Samsung Android phone should work on their HTC Android phone (both manufacturers are members of the OHA).

Nice, I thought. But who is benefiting from this?

Consumers, certainly, since their apps are portable across OEMs’ devices. Developers, maybe, since they benefit from interoperability of the apps they make. But who else?

Well, Google. Consumers seeing Android as one, collective product (made by Google) is good for Google. However, it limits the ways that OEMs can differentiate themselves to consumers, so it’s kind of bad for them.

(As a counter-example, Amazon is not a member of the OHA even though it uses Android as the OS for the Kindle Fire. )

From outside of the Android community, it’s really hard for me to see the benefit of Acer’s membership in the OHA for any commerical interests besides Google. The OHA was a great business move for Google, since it is helping to solidify Android as a Google product in the minds of consumes.

The OHA may be able to strong-arm OEMs with little-to-no offerings in the Android ecosystem like Acer, but with Samsung surpassing two thirds of Android marketshare, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Samsung pull out of the OHA soon. But we’ll see.

The OHA benefits consumers and hopefully Google has some teeth to enforce the rules on more than the likes of Acer. If Google wants Android to compete with iOS in the long-term, this is exactly the kind of strategy they need to maintain.


Posted on September 15, 2012