Android Compatibility Tests, Suites, Certification & Finger Pointing
Full disclosure: I’m knee-deep in Android development for a little labor of love that I hope will make me worth eleventy billion dollars sooner, rather than later. I am not, however, paid or affiliated with Google despite being a new contributor to the Android ecosystem. Additionally, Google, unlike Alibaba, is an advertising partner of PhoneNews.com… just like about 99.99% of the mobile media.
Andy Rubin has insisted that Alibaba cannot call Aliyun something that is “Android” or “Android-compatible”.
These semantics have never mattered before, because when they did matter, the topics they mattered in were irrelevant.
Case in point: The Nokia N9 and MeeGo. The Nokia N9 did not actually run MeeGo. It ran a fork of Nokia’s older predecessor to MeeGo, Maemo. Maemo was the bits of MeeGo that were merged with Moblin (from Intel) to form MeeGo. But, the N9 can run MeeGo apps, because it is MeeGo Compatible. Meaning, it doesn’t run the source code as-is from MeeGo’s repositories, but the Maemo OS inside the N9 was engineered to replicate all of MeeGo’s functionality… and app compatibility.
None of that matters, because Steven Elop isolated and limboed the N9 before it shipped to a single customer.
Aliyun, however, matters. Amazon was smart enough to dodge the debate by doing two things. One, Amazon made sure they never referred to their devices as running Android. And, more importantly, they made their devices pretty much Android-compatible to begin with.
You can sideload just about any app from the Google Play Store onto a Kindle Fire, and it will run just fine. Same with Nook Color and Nook Tablet. A few apps don’t work, but that is usually due to Kindle Fire being an Android 2.3 tablet… most Android 2.3 tablets were equally buggy. Kindle Fire HD will remedy that, as it is powered by Android 4.0 ICS (the original Kindle Fire cannot be properly updated to Android 4.0).
There are also devices that are radical departures from Android. The Nook Simple Touch, for example, runs Android underneath. Google-owned Motorola even shipped a feature phone that ran Android, but couldn’t install any additional Android apps. They too, don’t claim Android compatibility.
With Aliyun, however, Google asserts that it neither meets the qualifications for being deemed Android-compatible, and thus, is not a form of Android. Let’s turn to the independent referee, shall we?
Why did you just ask for the independent referee?
Well, that’s the problem: There is no independent body. There is the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), but after the first year or so, even Google acknowledged that OHA was not an independent body. It was originally advertised to be an independent-ish body, with Google holding a steering investment in Android, and the handset makers have their say at the tablet, too.
But after Android became a rip-roaring success, Google made a bit of a power grab with OHA members. Google asserted that they were the ones in charge of Android, but that the OHA was designed to ensure that Android would be a fair and level playing field of compatibility.
This became quite clear when Android 3.0, and subsequently Android 4.0, mandated OHA members not tinker with core user interface elements. Google eventually relented by offering a subset of the Android UI that could be modified, but it’s still a fluid give-and-take with manufacturers. Manufacturers want to create a unique experience, Google wants all Androids to be easily identified by users, regardless of who made them.
For the most part, Google has kept its core promises. You can ship an Android device free from any assets from Google, any permission or licensing from OHA, and can deploy replacements to all of Google’s services. Deploy Android, Amazon’s Appstore for Android, and Bing, and you can still tout your device as an Android device. Nobody will sue you, at least, nobody in the OHA.
The problems begin when you start to ask who is certifying Android devices, and who gets to definitively say what is Android-compatible, what is an Android device, and what is not? Again, the two US case-in-points, NOOK and Kindle Fire, both dodged the subject by not claiming Android compatibility. Next Page…