Will the Openness of Android Turn it Into Another Windows Mobile?


Android logoWhen Android was introduced by Google (s goog) the open nature of the platform was considered one of its main strengths. Google made it clear that as an open platform, developers would be able to leverage its strengths and expand in areas as they saw fit. This got the entire mobile space understandably excited, and we are just beginning to see the fruits of that openness as more handsets running Android are beginning to appear. It is too early to raise an alarm, but we may be seeing the openness begin to make the Android experience fragment as we have seen in Microsoft’s (s msft) Windows Mobile for quite some time.

The first Android phone, the G1 from T-Mobile in the U.S., was a Google phone through and through, and the tight Google integration was often touted as a strength in early reviews. Recently, word has started to appear that HTC, maker of the G1, will offer the HTC Magic without the Google branding and with other “special sauce” features not in the basic Android installation. This makes sense as OEMs and phone carriers want to differentiate themselves from the competition on any platform and the open nature of Android plays into this customization.

Windows Mobile logoThere is a dark side to such differentiation, however, something we have seen in the Windows Mobile camp for years. Android will likely begin having multiple faces as the interface is modified by different companies. We see this in the Windows Mobile world, and that is thought to fragment the awareness the consumer has of the platform. It looks one way on one handset and totally different on others. Android is likely going to start being changed (in fact, that’s already be occurring), and it’s going to start looking very different depending on whose handset or which carrier’s phone you are checking out.

This may not be a bad thing, but I am afraid in one area, a very important one, this openness is going to backfire. It’s going to start turning the Android update experience into a mish-mash process like that of Windows Mobile. We will probably at some point see an Android update get rolled out that not everyone can get on their phone. They will have to wait for the handset maker to modify the update to fit their own modifications. Then consumers may very well have to wait for their particular phone carrier to bless that update and modify it further for their particular subset of customers — if they choose to release it at all.

This is exactly the situation that owners of Windows Mobile phones face today and have lived with for years. It is common for owners of Windows Mobile phones to have a new OS feature denied them because all the ducks can’t get in a row to get the update released to them. I see this easily happening in the Android world, and if so, that would be a very bad thing for the platform. Diversity is good, but it comes at a steep price.



A system can’t be truly open and not also experience fragmentation.

There will certainly be a “core” group that sticks to Google’s rules, and Google does have a compatibility test suite, but the definition of openness allows for differentiation.

And you know cell phone makers and carriers need to differentiate to gain and hold onto customers.

Frankly, I don’t see a difference between the way Java code has developed and been licensed and how Android will progress in the future.


To Jake’s question about what Android can do that WinMo phones can’t, you have to dig into the platform a bit. There are some fundamental platform components that make Android a better communication platform for tomorrow than either iPhone or WinMo today — developers haven’t really capitalized on all those aspects yet.

I don’t see this move by HTC as a problem though. The entire Android system is customizeable, even to the point that you can replace the default “Shell” or Home as it is known in Android. What HTC is doing is an extension of Android. It is akin to Microsoft adding Winforms hooks to MS-Java before Sun had worked on and created Swing. As much as I love Android, there needs to be exchange support if it is to become an enterprise platform. If that is handed 3rd party because Google isn’t going to pay licensing fees to add it, then this seems like the way to go.

This will not fracture the Android platform because the change isn’t being made to Android, only to the intents and services.


The article is spot on, it points to the weakness that an open platform can unintentionally create. Those who treated this post as an invitation to fan the Linux vs Win flames missed the point. James is pointing at a very real problem. And I want the competition from a Linux based handset to remain viable! If nothing else its vital to keep pushing WinMo, webOS and Apple in the right direction.

Kevin Hughes

Wow, way to make a fanbased flamewar!

I think the article highlights a key point and the strategy of the iPhone, make a common platform, controlled by one organisation and then allow all development into it through managed means.

Android is a step in the right direction, but *personally* I feel that the UI should be locked to the key players to provide a standard core and interface for all models and applications should be configurable to plugin into customisable areas.

Anyway, this is all irrelevant when then palm pre comes out.. :)


wince was a stripped windows bolted on underpowered hardware. Each version of winmo pushed performance forward. I don’t understand the part about splintering, Linux is splintered, its GUIs are as well.
Why no mention of Symbian then? At least winmo is hackably upgraded.
I find generic bashing of platforms silly. HTC makes excellent winmo phones, with utilities to plug in the UI gaps. Nokia hasn’t, but no one else can help.
Linux is great though, but you’d wish there were more volunteers… And of course Android is just Linux with a JSR-less Java bolted on, but did you see how fast HTC dumped the Google bits?

Tom Reestman

As an open OS I’d assumed any refinements made by one vendor would be available to all others. Perhaps HTC got around this by removing the “by Google” branding?

If so, the good news is that vendors are free to innovate on top of Android without giving it away to their competition. The bad news is that, as you say, it means the fragmentation of the Android platform has begun.


Great article James. I’ve been thinking the same thing for quite some time but I think the situation is actually worse for Android.

In addition to different interfaces a la TouchFlo you also have totally different builds with totally different applications. For instance, Samsung are working on their own custom build of the OS which they will be responsible for updating. This is potentially worse than the situation with WinMo because you’ll end up with forks in the base OS code.

It’s also ironic that Android is following this path just as WinMo is (finally) going in the other direction and embracing the idea of OTA updates direct from MS. I suspect that Android will soon find itself as just another generic mobile phone OS that nobody cares about and will never have actually taken off.

Gavin Miller

Alex, it’s a bit harsh to say wimo is garbage. It multitasks well and is very flexible. What I would say is that it should have been developed far more over the years than it has been, allowing other mobile OS’s to overtake it in certain areas. Of course, Apple’s App store has revolutionised this market and really ground wimo into the dust on that front!

Back in the day WinCE was revolutionary, and technically speaking blew every other device (Palm) away as regards graphical capability, video playback etc.

It is a bit sluggish and the basic interface is very dated. However, it is not ‘garbage’ and I look forward to wimo 7.

Oddly however, I find myself for the first time in 9 years without a wimo/winCE device! My iPhone and Viliv S5 are meeting my mobile needs for now.


I use the term “garbage” partly out of frustration. I was a Windows Mobile user for many, many years. Between the clunky UI and terrible stability (daily resets anyone?) I just got fed up. Out the gate Android had achieved everything Wimo had done in a decade. Now with Cupcake, they’ve successfully passed them.

I am not a fan of Apple’s “closed source” mentality. I root for Wimo 7 and hope that they merge their best with the ZuneHD. As I stated in the original post, I applaud Android for their open standards and love how the community is carrying the baton.

No matter how you slice it, in a side by side comparison, Wimo 6.5 is gonna come in last.

Bob V


1. open source/Linux

2. android marketplace
(WM never had an “app store” to keep things structured and organized to promote development…still technically doesn’t)

3. Google
(they’ve seen Microsoft’s past mistakes regarding mobile phones, and will absolutely not let it happen to one of their products)

4. Abilities and UI
(can do a lot more, but more importantly, has a UI that makes it easy for any newcomer to do so)


1. So what? This seems to be the problem with Android as every man and his dog has a go at customising the software.

2. The merits of the Android marketplace can be debated (I’ve never heard anyone claim that it’s actually a success) but there are tens of thousands of apps available for WinMo and they’ll soon be available in a marketplace as well. Google wish they had as many applications for their platform.

3. You do know that there are already Android phones that don’t include any Google software don’t you? I think you’ll find that they are acting more like Motorola than MS when it comes to their OS.

4. What exactly can it do that WinMo can’t do? I’ve yet to see any mobile OS that’s capable of doing more than WinMo. The WinMo interface may be a bit tired now but that should all change by the end of the year when WinMo 7 comes out and it doesn’t prevent you from doing anything.

Bob V

lol you silly fanboy…

1. obviously you don’t use linux…open source is better for everyone, there is just no way around it. Say for example, I bet your using firefox right now…

2. The point is that the android marketplace like the apple app store draws in developers and guarantees them an easy way for their products to reach thousands of customers instantly without hardly any effort. WM at this point in time can’t do that, I know there are tons of apps out there for the platform, but it’s not like every average joe out there knows about them or better yet how to get them.

3. Actually, every android phone out there includes Google software(pshft what am i saying, android is google software in the first place!). They just don’t sport Google branding like the G1. That is besides the point anyways…it’s basically Googles’ platform they’ll see to it it doesn’t screw up.

4. In case you haven’t noticed, multi-touch is kinda the new “thing” in mobile devices. WM at this point has no multi-touch support at all(yes, WM7 will be and I patiently await its arrival, but forget WM6.5, the devs themselves say it was rushed and is bad)…just to name a big one, there are many more if you want to get into specifics.


Good point. Not going to happen in my opinion. People will not buy devices that are not certified for automatic upgrades.


Windows Mobile has nothing to do with Open OS, you need to delete this post and write it over again.


Wimo’s problem is that it’s garbage and garbage with different faces makes it even worse.

I applaud Google for supplying the base OS and allowing HTC and other 3rd parties to fill in the blanks. We should hope and expect that Android will be stronger with all the 3rd party attention similar to how Linux has grown through the years.

Julius Hibbert, M.D.

Oh, give it a rest. Is there some Tech Blog Commenter Handbook that people are getting this stuff from? ;-)

Comments are closed.