Earlier in the week some news broke of Acer looking to launch a phone in China using the Aliyun OS, an operating system from the biggest web presence in China. However, at the eleventh hour Google were said to put their foot down and demand that the launch not take place. Acer complied but, this left a lot of us scratching our heads – never before have we seen Google assert their power by preventing a partner launching with a differing OS and especially not with threats of cutting Acer off from the entire Android ecosystem. Without comment from Google themselves it was hard to come to understand just what had happened. Now, though Google have spoken and we can confirm that Acer were told to stop the launch going ahead because of Open Handset Alliance stipulations. Google's statement is below for you all to read:
"Compatibility is at the heart of the Android ecosystem and ensures a consistent experience for developers, manufacturers and consumers. Non-compatible versions of Android, like Aliyun, weaken the ecosystem. All members of the Open Handset Alliance have committed to building one Android platform and to not ship non-compatible Android devices. This does not however, keep OHA members from participating in competing ecosystems."
I can certainly see where Google are coming from when they stipulate that "non-compatible versions of Android" weaken the ecosystem. Let's face it, one of Android's biggest strengths is that you can buy from a number of different manufacturers and still be ensured app or game compatibility so long as you have a phone made in the last couple of years at least. The Aliyun operating system isn't a fork of Android but it certainly holds its resemblance and relies heavily on cloud storage and cloud services – much like Android does. It can also run Android applications using a "virtual machine" making things even more messy when you think about compatibility.
Alibaba – the company behind the Aliyun OS – has stated that Google are pigeon-holding their partners to ship only "compatible versions" of Android and they'd be right, Google holds access to the Google Apps and early access to members of the Open Handset Alliance that play ball and tow the Android line. I really don't see this as Google being unfair in any way, it's obvious that Google and the OHA want to be on that phone instead of Aliyun and besides, there's nothing stopping Alibaba releasing a heavily customised version of Android that ties into their services so, realistically, both Acer and Alibaba should have seen this coming.
I'm also a little surprised that Acer didn't work with Alibaba to get a custom build of Android running on the device instead of just going with the Aliyun OS. Andy Rubin said it best himself, when pondering the open nature of Android:
"While Android remains free for anyone to use as they would like, only Android compatible devices benefit from the full Android ecosystem. By joining the Open Handset Alliance, each member contributes to and builds one Android platform — not a bunch of incompatible versions."
There's nothing wrong with running a differing OS because after all Motorola and a number of other partners run phones with the OPhone OS in China but, is that an incompatible version of Android? No. Because it isn't Android at all. Google have taken the right step here to ensure that Android doesn't become another Operating System for everyone and their brother to dump stuff upon. Google should be doing more of this in order to keep Android a solid platform for consumers and manufacturers alike.