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The Mobile Lowdown 03-25-11: Honeycomb; In-App Billing; iPad 2; MobileMe

Our look at some of the big stories today in mobile: Google (NSDQ: GOOG) reigns in Honeycomb from smartphone makers, and starts to test in-app billing; iPad 2 launches outside the U.S. and more rumors on how Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) plans to relaunch MobileMe, its mobile back-up and storage service.

Honeycomb: Here’s one move that demonstrates the very true fact that open source does not equate to free-for-all. Google yesterday said, in an article in BusinessWeek, that it would not be releasing the source code for Honeycomb any time soon, thereby preventing any manufacturer that wants to to develop a device based on the system to be able to do so, as has been done with previous versions of Android.

The reason, says Google’s VP of engineering and head of Android Andy Rubin, is because the software hasn’t been built to run on anything other than tablets and Google will want to modify it before anyone tries to use it for anything else: “To make our schedule to ship the tablet, we made some design tradeoffs. We didn’t want to think about what it would take for the same software to run on phones. It would have required a lot of additional resources and extended our schedule beyond what we thought was reasonable. So we took a shortcut.”

In that sense, Android being open source has been both a blessing and curse for Google. We’ve seen a huge explosion of Android devices, big-name and no-name, on the market, which has made it into the dominant smartphone OS in many countries already — which Google must love for the opportunities it gives it for advertising and its other software products. But that also means a real lack of control on the user experience and quality, which has also been an issue — for example with the first generation of Android tablets that came out last year, which were criticised for not being tablet-friendly in their UI’s and features.

Another possible reason for holding on to Honeycomb? It reigns in how many products flood the market. Too many other tablets — possibly priced cheaper than the Xoom (pictured), the Slate and the others — dilute the opportunity for those larger vendors that have put a lot of money and effort into developing the first generation of Honeycomb tablets — Motorola (NYSE: MMI), Samsung, HTC and LG (SEO: 066570). These companies — who do have the source code — will want to target first the company in front of them (Apple) before worrying about who is coming up from the back.

In-app billing: Yet more Android developments. Eric Chu, Google’s head of the Android developer ecosystem, writes on the Android blog that its One Pass in-app billing service will officially launch next week. For now, developers can start to test the billing mechanism, although they cannot post new updates to their apps until next week. Will be interesting to see where the feature, which is offering more favorable terms than Apple is offering (with a 10/90 share compared to a 30/70 split) starts to appear.

iPad 2: The device has launched today in the UK and 23 other countries outside of the U.S. with the requisite queues outside Apple flagship stores and other retailers in various cities. We will update here when and if we hear of short supply issues or anything else of note. Supplies are reported to be almost absurdly low. Phones4U is allegedly only stocking one in each of its retail stores, according to PocketLint. In the UK the launch of the iPad 2 is going head-to-head with the Nintendo 3DS, which also went on sale today, boasting of 140,000 pre-orders of the device (Apple has not released pre-order numbers).

MobileMe: This looks like another minor development on the reports from earlier this month about Apple and cloud services. According to The Music Void (tipped via 9to5mac) the MobileMe service will cost $20 per year, and will include some kind of a “digital locker” service for music.

Apparently, a deal has already been signed with Warner Music, which Apple is using as leverage to get deals signed with all the other major labels.