Open source advent calendar: the mobile top dog Android

This is an advent calendar for techies. In the fully commercialized digital world, almost everything belongs to a large Internet corporation. Their software is neither open nor free. As an alternative, there is this small island of the open source world: software whose code is publicly visible and can be independently checked for possible security gaps and backdoors. Software that can be freely used, distributed and improved. Often the drive for work is simply the joy of providing something useful to society.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1st to December 24th. These are about the functions of the respective software, the pitfalls, the history, the background and the financing. Some projects are backed by an individual, others by a loosely organized community, a tightly managed foundation with full-time employees or a consortium. The work is done entirely on a voluntary basis, or it is financed through donations, cooperation with Internet companies, government funding or an open source business model. Regardless of whether it is a single application or a complex ecosystem, whether a PC program, app or operating system – the diversity of open source is overwhelming.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1st to December 24th. These are about the functions of the respective software, the pitfalls, the history, the background and the financing.

With Android, Google has achieved a strategic coup: started as open source (with a lot of small print), the project became a pillar of its own economic and data power.

Android is an open source operating system, primarily for smartphones. Side applications are Android TV, Android Auto, and Android Wear. The software is under a Apache Licence Version 2.0. Android dominates the market: The global market share for new sales was around 85 percent in the third quarter of 2021. Around 1.2 billion Android smartphones were sold from October 2020 to September 2021.

The Open Handset Alliance (OHA) is behind Android. Sit in this consortium 86 companies from the top league of the technology and digital economy: including Telekom, Vodafone, Telefonica and China Telecommunications Operator (from the mobile communications sector), Samsung, Toshiba, Dell and Huawei (device manufacturers) or Qualcomm, Intel, ARM (chips).

Hardly anything can be learned about the work of the Open Handset Alliance. The sparse information on the website stands in striking contrast to the alleged openness of the project. It is known that Google sets the tone at the OHA and does most of the development work. It is also knownthat the members commit to a kind of anti-competition clause: They are not allowed to sell devices that run incompatible Android forks.

In fact, Android consists of two parts. On the one hand from the Android Open Source Project the Open Handset Alliance – on the other hand from a proprietary part of Google. The trademark rights to the Android term are held by Google. And Google operates major Android utilities that are proprietary. These include, for example, the Play Store app marketplace, through which Google receives commissions on every version of a paid app sold, the antivirus software Google Play Protect and Firebase Cloud Messaging, a notification service for Messenger.

If manufacturers use the open source operating system, write Android on it and want to deliver a completely functioning, complete device, they have to come to an agreement with Google. Commercially available Android is as good as always Google Land. Sales (via the Play Store) land on Google as well as masses of user data (via the default settings of the operating systems and the authorizations of Google end-user and system apps). Usually the first step in setting up a Google Android is to “personalize” your device – by linking it to a Google account.

The IT group does not show the sales and profits that Google makes with Android. in the Annual report 2020 hide yourself in the $ 22 billion revenue category “Google other”. However, 2016 was in the wake of a legal dispute Numbers known: According to this, between 2008 and 2016 Google had turned over 31 billion US dollars with Android and achieved a profit of 22 billion.

Google’s business conduct is a permanent political issue in the EU. In 2018, the EU Commission condemned the group for obstructing competition with Android 4.3 billion euros fine. An appeal by Google against the fine is currently being negotiated.

(Image: heise online)

Android is not an in-house development, but was bought in 2005 for 50 million US dollars. In 2007, Google introduced Android as a software platform, formally operated by the Open Handset Alliance, which was founded on the same day. The first Android mobile phones soon came onto the market: The first was the HTC Dream in 2008, followed by Samsung in 2009 and Nokia, LG, Motorola and Google with their own hardware range in 2010. In 2010, Android overtook Apple’s smartphone operating system iOS and then rolled out onto the market.

Android on smartphones is almost always Google Android. A seamlessly functioning Android without cooperation with Google has so far only been achieved by large IT corporations: Amazon with its Android fork Fire OS or the Chinese hardware company Huawei with Harmony OS.

There are independent Android alternatives that try more or less successfully to do without Google, for example /e/, LineageOS or CalyxOS. These can be used to replace standard Android with fiddling, and a few web shops sell devices with a preinstalled alternative Android.

When banning Google, the Android forks go differently. The more rigid they are, the more it shows how successfully Google has anchored itself in the functional logic of Android: installing apps is getting more complicated, apps keep showing error messages and messenger messages are delivered with a delay.

With Android, Google has achieved a strategic masterpiece, one could also say: a crook’s piece. Using a clever, somehow-only-open-source construction with a lot of small print, Google has achieved a market dominance that is at least as great as that of Microsoft with its proprietary Windows operating system. The case of Android shows: Open Source can do a lot, but it does not guarantee power-free relationships.

The work on the series of articles is based in part on a “Neustart Kultur” grant from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, awarded by VG Wort.


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