For a lot of people, Android is the anti-iPhone, the system that lets them choose whichever phone from whichever manufacturer they want, while still being able to drink from the same fountain of services and apps as everyone else. For Google however, it’s just another piece of big business software, and as core elements of Google Android (that is versions of Android that support Google services, unlike Amazon’s Fire tablets that run Android) such as the Play Store, Google Play Services and co become more sophisticated, Android feels less and less open. The base code of Android is of course Open Source, published via the Android Open Source Project, and is freely available to those looking to build their own version of the software, with Google Apps packages available as binary add-ons. Thanks to Oracle forcing their hand however, there are whispers of Google turning Android into a locked-down, proprietary OS as soon as next year.
The report comes via The Register, which cites analyst, Richard Windsor, who thinks that Google will use the case against Oracle as the “perfect excuse” to make Android, or at least the special source at the heart of Android, proprietary. According to Windsor, there is a secret project going on at Google to redesign the Android Runtime (ART) to be free of the code inside of the AOSP, and then make this new runtime proprietary. This would be a big deal for the world of Android, as it would effectively make the open source version useless, as Android is nothing without its apps and a version of Android without a compatible ART would have no apps, or at least not any up-to-date ones. Should the ART become proprietary, it could severely compromise competitors like Amazon – as well as deliver a hit to the Google-free Chinese market – as devices would then need to pass and agree to the terms of Google’s controversial Google Mobile Services (GMS) agreements.
This change is apparently being bought about as a result of the lawsuit with Oracle. Despite a recent win for Google, who managed to successful argue a fair use case, the suit is presumably going to head back to the Federal appeals court, which is more included to side with the creator of an Intellectual Property (IP) or current rights holder. Should Oracle win the $9 Billion they’re looking for – as well as change the software landscape for good – then Google will tell developers and handset manufacturers that they have little choice but to lock up Android for good, Windsor says. If APIs are proven to be copyrightable, then Google could quite easily copyright ART, saying sayonara to Oracle’s Java as well as keeping Android safe and sound from forks and other attacks. After all, Google will then hold the keys to the castle when it comes to apps, as a non-compatible and Google-free version of Android is unlikely to sell well in the Western world.
Whether or not Android does see such a huge change in the near future is of course, unclear, and this is the sort of report to be taken with more than a pinch of salt. However, if Google do get hit with a $9 Billion bill by Oracle, they won’t want to do the same again, and locking down Android as their own might be the easiest and most profitable way to avoid a second bill. One thing’s for sure, Google I/O 2017 sounds exciting already.