Is Android Really the ‘Open’ Platform?

Much has been claimed by Google ever since the infant days of its Android mobile operating system. The claim it has seemed to champion the most is that its platform is open by nature.

One of the biggest complaints about iOS has been Apple’s lockdown policy, so naturally, Google would want to make its platform’s openness a main selling point. Lately, though, it is starting to become apparent that Android isn’t as “open” as we were led to believe.

Pay and Pay Again

One very helpful and popular utility that smartphones and advanced cellular data networks have given us is the ability to tether our phones to our laptops or desktops and use them as a cellular modem for Internet access. Most cellular carriers offer this as a service that you have to pay an extra monthly fee for (usually around US$20 a month).

Now, if you ask me, having to pay extra monthly for that service isn’t very fair, considering customers already pay a data plan fee for either unlimited data access, or limited access with an extra per-MB fee after the limit is met. Why should it matter how they’re using the data?

All of that is beside the point, though. There are many options across all platforms to tether for free (“free” meaning not paying an extra fee to your carrier). These options usually require rooting your Android phone or jailbreaking your iPhone.

Good Reason to Root

Rooting and jailbreaking are not illegal, but they usually will void your phone’s warranty. Typically, though, you can restore the original OS before taking a phone in for service, and the company would never know.

After you root or jailbreak, you have access to many different tethering apps that work just as well as the ones carriers offer for a fee. Let me tell you, these tethering apps are exceptionally valuable during a long car or train ride, or if for some reason your broadband at home goes out.

Now, it seems that Google is working with carriers that are requesting the removal of such third-party tethering apps from the Android Market. Granted, Apple doesn’t allow these third-party apps anywhere near its App Store, but that isn’t the issue here, considering that Apple has never once claimed to be an open platform.

Open for Business

Another interesting wrinkle to this story is that three years ago, when the C-Block 700 MHz spectrum was up for auction, Google made bids on it with the sole purpose of driving the cost above the $4.6 billion threshold that would trigger the “open applications” and “open handsets” provisions in the licensing agreement — more specifically, Section 27.20 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which reads as follows:”Licensees offering service on spectrum subject to this section shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee’s C Block network… .”Google did not win the auction. (It had no intention of winning it. Verizon won, and it now uses it for its LTE network.) However, I think its pretty hypocritical of Google to fight for the openness of future network technologies, while touting the openness of its own platform — then turn around and help to limit the usage of data that customers are already paying for.

Maybe Android isn’t as “open” as we were led to believe.

Freelance writer Craig Walkup works for the RepairLaunchrepair services network.


  • Because Android is associated with Google I am skeptical of their claim to open source completely. I find this a rather gray area of open source. For example Safari is based on open source Webkit. But Safari is certainly not open. Many company’s create a version of an open source OS for their own gain. I am thinking of Sony’s Playstation based on a form of Linux. So is open source just a saying? I always thought of open source as a blue print to add too and make it your own. But I sometimes question companies using it to make huge profits on the backs of donated code?

  • I know that an opinion is an opinion, but for the love of baby Jesus, this is like complaining about buying a car and then having to pay extra to get the gas.

    Errors? Yeah, as I see it this piece is full of them. Let’s just list them:

    1. Android is open source, Android Market is not.

    2. Since you’re now aware that you aren’t running a FOSS only device you can change your ROM. There are open source only ROM’s out there. Go get one.

    3. Every one of these tether apps can be downloaded and installed from the project or developer websites. Sideloading apps is built in to the OS, and now even AT&T allows it.

    4. Android OS is no less open because Google is blocking tethering apps from Android Market. Is my Ubuntu install less open because I am using proprietary drivers and closed source software that I had to go and download from assorted developer websites? No, it isn’t. Root your phone and install an open only ROM. Live the FOSS dream.

    5. Again, Android OS is open source. All of the Google apps are not and any use of those apps is limited by the proprietary nature of the software that you are using.

    6. The limitations imposed in the 700MHz auction in no way limits the carriers from declaring that your data usage is limited to one device. All are perfectly within their rights to say that your phone is one device requiring one payment. Your tablet or laptop is another device requiring another payment for data access. Your total lack of understanding aside, any carrier requiring an extra fee to connect a second device to their network has every right to do it.

    7. And finally, the biggest error that you make in this whole thing. You are not paying for data for any device that you want to use it on. Read your contract, you will see that you agreed that the data that you are paying for is for use on your device only. If you want to tether another device to it to access the network, that costs extra. You signed the contract, not Google or anyone else associated with Android. You signed it, so don’t blame the the maker of your device or it’s OS. This is between you and your carrier.

    I’m well aware that opinion is all about shooting from the hip, but most people with a sideways slant don’t publish their baseless rants for anyone to see on the Internet.

    Calling in to question the open nature of Android OS because of something that happens with Android Market is whining and nothing more.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

LinuxInsider Channels