Google I/O Google has said that the next version of Android, dubbed "Ice Cream Sandwich", will be open sourced "by the end of the year," and that it will not open source the current Android incarnation, the tablet-centric Honeycomb, before that time.
Earlier this year, Honeycomb debuted on the Motorola Xoom tablet. It was soon revealed, however – by the press, not by Google – that the company had no intention of immediately open sourcing Honeycomb. Typically, Google develops the latest version of Android behind closed doors, before releasing the OS to open source around the time the first devices hit the market.
Speaking during a press briefing Tuesday morning at Google's annual developer conference, Android headman Andy Rubin said – as he has said before – that Google used a "shortcut" to get Honeycomb to market and that the company did not release it to open source because it was not suited for use on phones. Google, Rubin said, did not want developers trying to put the new OS on phones.
"We did an internal 'trick' to make the Honeycomb schedule," Rubin said. "We wanted to get Honeycomb out on tablets as soon as possible. We took a shortcut, and did not make it available for phones. We felt that open sourcing it at that point would be difficult because people would try to wedge it into phones and create a bad user experience."
Of course, Google had no problem open sourcing phone-centric versions of Android and watching people squeeze them onto tablets.
Ice Cream Sandwich is meant to offer a single Android OS for phones, tablets, and other devices, including televisions (Google TV is based on Android). During a morning keynote at Tuesday's Google I/O conference, Google said that Ice Cream Sandwich will be open sourced – and when Rubin was asked when this would happen at the press briefing following the keynote, he said the source code would arrive before the end of the year. He also indicated that Honeycomb will not be open sourced before then. Ice Cream Sandwich is meant to incorporate tools that debuted with Honeycomb, as well as other new tools.
"We will basically remerge [Honeycomb with the Android phone OS]," Rubin said. "[Ice Cream Sandwich] is the remerging of the tablet and phone and television source code. So Ice Cream will be the next open source release and that will be towards the end of the year."
Google ruffled more than a few feathers with its decision not to open source Honeycomb. Whatever the reason for the decision, the end result is that Hoenycomb will not be available to anyone but close Google partners for as much as a year.
When asked about developer complaints that Motorola and others are getting Honeycomb before competitors, Rubin dodged the question, explaining – once again – how Google's Android partner program works. Asked how he defines "open", Rubin said that the Android project is "light on community and heavy on open source". He said it was not an option to develop Android completely in the open because it becomes difficult to tell when the platform is ready for release.
"Open source is different than a community-driven project," Rubin said. "We're building a platform. We're not building an app. When you're building a platform, you evolve APIs, you add APIs, you deprecate APIs. We're always adding new functionality ... so when you add new APIs, typically, in my opinion, community processes don't work. It's really hard to tell when you're done. It's hard to tell what's a release and what's a beta. When you're dealing with a platform, that just doesn't work, because all these [app] developers have an expectation that all those APIs are done and completed on a certain date.
"An operator or someone else could take an early version of the code when those APIs are not locked down and start building devices, and those devices would be incompatible with third-party developers building applications."
It should be added, however, that official Android devices that use the Android name and include the Android market are strictly checked by Google to ensure compatibility. Whatever Google's other reasons are for this setup, one result is that it can maintain tight control over operators and handset manufacturers building official Android devices. And it can play favorites among partners. As it does. ®