Poor Andy Rubin. As the head of Android development for Google he has what seems to be the best job in the world and the worst job in the world at the same time. It’s the best job because Android is exploding in popularity and he can leverage the power of Google to do some really great things in the mobile space. But at the same time, it’s the worst job because all that innovation he comes up with is clearly under the thumb of the carriers and OEMs that Google has partnered with for Android. Don’t believe me? Just read Rubin breathlessly apologizing for the carriers and OEMs in his interview with PC Magazine.
When asked why some OEMs are still releasing phones with Android 1.6 on them, Rubin says:
I think the OEMs seem to learn pretty quickly what sells and what doesn’t sell. I’m pretty happy with the pace at which we’re innovating. If we come out with a 2.3 or a 3.0, that’s going to be state of the art, because it’s going to have new functionality and new innovations that all the OEMs are going to want to adopt.
Okay, Android has been out for two years now. When exactly are the OEMs going to get that message? Is that really them learning “pretty quickly”? Hasn’t the same things been said about all the previous versions of Android? I mean, people tend to want whatever is the latest and greatest — why is that difficult to understand? And why do consumers have to demand it for the OEMs to do it?
When asked about Android’s openness actually meaning it’s open for the carriers to screw customers (an idea near and dear to my heart), Rubin responds with:
If I were to release an operating system that I claimed was open and that forced everybody to make [phones] all look the same and all support very narrow features and functionality, the platform wouldn’t win. It wouldn’t win because the OEMs have a lot of value to bring and the carriers have a lot of value to bring, and they need a vehicle by which to put their interesting differentiating features on these things.
So, Google is a vehicle for the carriers? Great.
And, um, what exactly is the value that the carriers bring? Their bloatware? Their rip-off self-serving apps? This sounds like it was written by the carriers for Rubin to read. I don’t think that anyone can argue that if Google had absolute power and held the carriers in check, the world would be a better place. For a while, it seemed like they were going to try to do that — then they folded (which was a smart business decision, but a bad decision for consumers).
When PC Magazine points out that it’s not like Google is taking a fully open approach with Android — they still have minimum standards for phones that will have their branding — and asks why they don’t simply say that the only app store should be the official Android one, Rubin says:
Well, it’s tough to draw the line, and we think about that a lot. First of all, we don’t like drawing lines. We like making exceptions, and we learn a lot in the process. … The point of being open is that I’ve given up control of what can be put on phones, and put it in the hands of everybody in the community.
Okay, but when Verizon and Sprint load up Android devices with pre-installed apps that can’t be deleted, how exactly is that in the hand of the community? Unless, of course, he means the carrier community. In which case, ugh.
And that’s actually exactly how PC Magazine read that response too. “But when you say ‘you’ve put it in the hands of the community,” what people in the U.S. frequently hear is ‘you’ve put it in the hands of the wireless carriers.’” is their response. Rubin’s response to that:
Yes and no. It’s always going to be like that. I’m not trying to be a wireless carrier, I’m not trying to assert authority over the wireless operators, but I think it’s kind of like that 1.5 and 1.6 versus 2.2 scenario. I think over time they’ll learn what is good business and what is bad business.
Sure they will Andy, sure they will. What are we at now, twenty years of this carrier bullshit and counting?
PC Magazine then goes into the fact that when the Nexus One was announced, it was being billed as the device that could change the way carriers have a stranglehold on consumers in the U.S. market. Then Google backed away from that plan. Rubin is vaguely optimistic here about how Google can get back to selling an unlocked phone:
Making unlocked phones available in the U.S. is still a possibility. Whether that’s simply acquired only online or through traditional retail channels – that’s what got canceled. So we have to decide how to make unlocked phones available in the U.S.
Translation: we have to figure out how to do this without pissing off our carrier partners.
PC Magazine then goes into the possibility that Android could get native VoIP capabilities by way of Google Voice and the Gizmo5 acquisition. That would be awesome. But what does Rubin say to that?
Today what Google Voice is, it’s a front end for your existing phone number, and it’s also an optimized voicemail system … whether we actually become a voice service provider, that’s probably a question for the Google Voice team, but also I’d have to think carefully about what that means for the wireless operators, who are our partners. You wouldn’t expect us to be a voice service provider for wireless.
Because, you know, that might actually be the best thing ever for consumers and would royally screw the carriers. Nope, don’t want to do that, they’re our buddies.
At that point, PC Magazine switched gears and went into Windows Phone 7. I think they were just as tired as we are of hearing how great the carriers are.