Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish

You may recall that Amazon recently began offering a new smartphone that launched with an intriguing pricing strategy. Joanna Stern, Wall Street Journal:

Even though Amazon sells the R1 HD for as little as $50, on the open market it starts at $100. Why the discount? Ads. Sorry, “special offers.” Which are ads.

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you pay $50 (plus an extra $10 if you want more memory and storage), and on the lock screen, you see a rotation of promotions similar to what appears on Amazon tablets and e-readers. The shopping giant knocks down the price knowing it will make back the money and then some.

Putting ads on a platform owned by an advertising technology company is a pretty bold move. Unfortunately for Amazon, it was a little too bold for Google.

Ron Amadeo reports for Ars Technica on the state of the version of Android coming on Google’s new Nexus phones:

In Android, the System UI is a huge deal since it’s responsible for much of the base operating system. It handles the bottom navigation bar, the top status bar, the notification panel, Quick Settings, Recent Apps, the lock screen, the volume controls, and the power button long-press menu. The new Nexus devices are apparently going to replace the open source System UI with a proprietary APK called the “Google System UI.”

[…]

We’d imagine the System UI could take a similar path to the Google Now Launcher. The [Android Open Source Project] version of the launcher still exists, which OEMs take and make questionable changes to. Users are free to download the Google version of the launcher (today it’s available through the Play Store), which allows them to undo a big chunk of the OEM changes. It would be amazing to have the option of restoring Android’s notification panel and Recent Apps screen if OEMs get too out of hand.

Jack Wellborn:

Carriers and handset makers’ inability and unwillingness to push updates of any sort, including those vital to their customers’ security, gives Google a very good reason to shift as much of Android to their control by any means possible, but migrating functionality to Play also effectively replaces open source Android with Google proprietary code. While it’s certainly reasonable to expect that Google’s applications and services like YouTube or GMail would remain proprietary, it seems open source Android functionality is increasingly being migrated to closed source for the sole strategic benefit of Google. Additionally, as functionality is added to Play, any open source counterpart in Android languishes without Google’s vast resources.

Android may technically be open source, and much of its development still occurs in a way that anyone can freely download and build from. But it is becoming increasingly under Google’s control by default, with core features restricted to platform partners and parts of the system moving closer to propriety. It’s clearly not under the same level of control as iOS is under Apple, but there is a growing rift between the open source promise and the contractually-agreed proprietary reality.