The HTC One X is a wonder of a phone — sleek and thin with a brilliant screen.
And yet it comes pre-loaded with so much unremovable bloatware, you’d swear that Microsoft was involved.
But no, the ATT Code Scanner, the ATT Family Map, the ATT Navigator and ATT Ready2Go and more are pre-installed and unremovable, thanks to, well, ATT — with a tacit assist from Google. ATT also shipped the phone with a locked bootloader, meaning that the modder community has to expend days and weeks to find a way to load new custom Android versions on the device, despite the handset manufacturer HTC’s recent pledge to stop using locked bootloaders.
It’s time for this to stop and it’s Google’s job to do it.
Since Android is open source software, ATT and HTC are free to install it on any handset they choose. But like any high-end Android phone, the HTC One X is Google-certified so it can ship with pre-installed Google software, including the Play App Store, Navigator, Gmail and others. It’s not that hard for handset makers and carriers to get that approval — in fact it’s too easy.
The whole promise of Android was that it was an open ecosystem — a contrast Google loves to draw with Apple’s closed system.
At the Google I/O conference in 2010, Google vice president Vic Gundotra intimated that Apple had become the Big Brother it promised to smash.
“If you believe in openness, if you believe in choice, if you believe in innovation from everyone, then welcome to Android,” Gundotra said. “If Google did not act, we faced a Draconian future where one man, one company, one device, one carrier would be our only choice.”
But carriers, who strangled handset and mobile application innovation for years until Apple wrested control from them, can’t stop themselves from bloating and crippling phones — including the ones Google touts as exemplars of openness.
That means Android is now primed to get a reputation as a throwback to the old days of mobile phones — when devices shipped with all sorts of crapware designed to make money for the carriers, no matter how annoying or useless the app was.
Google has been trying to fight this by creating a so-called flagship phone — the Nexus line, a lean, clean, pure Android phone that comes with few, if any, carrier-chosen apps. According to a Wall Street Journal report this week, Google’s now set to expand the program so that all the five major manufacturers will have one. These phones run pure Android, with no skins, and with bootloaders easily unlocked. If you want to install a Wi-Fi sharing app on a Samsung Nexus, no problem, no matter what your carrier’s policy is on their use.
That lets Android hackers like the Cyanogenmod and XDA-Developer communities tinker away — whipping up new features, creating battery-saving radios and removing the crud from devices. That’s what open source looks like.
Google launched Android, in part, hoping to undermine the power of the carriers. Selling the Nexus One online to outmaneuver the carriers failed, but since then Android has been on a tear. Now Androids are everywhere, and at least for the time being, no real Android phone could ship with commercial and critical success without Google services.
And it’s now time for Google to use that market power to constrain the carriers and keep Android open and free. As the Free Software Foundation says, “When users don’t control the program, the program controls the users.”
Google could easily update the requirements for including Google’s proprietary apps to require carriers to sell Android phones that allow users to have root, remove skins and provide accessible, unlocked bootloaders. Throw in a requirement that carriers include only a very limited number of carrier-branded and sponsored apps, and then you have a pretty good way to keep Android from being tarnished by the biz guys at the carriers.
If Google wielded their power and changed their requirements, there would be another positive side effect — a world full of devices that can be tinkered with — even if most users never get any farther than removing ATT Family Map the day they buy their phone. Which, sadly, can’t be done today on what’s arguably the best Android phone ever.
Article source: http://www.wired.com/opinion/2012/05/google-android-open/