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Google’s modified Android SDK terms

November 16, 2012

Google added a new section to the Android SDK licensing terms this week (CNet’s coverage). The new section reads:

3.4 You agree that you will not take any actions that may cause or result in the fragmentation of Android, including but not limited to distributing, participating in the creation of, or promoting in any way a software development kit derived from the SDK.

I find this section interesting (and hypocritical, but that’s another post). What’s the problem Google is trying to solve? People still stuck using older versions of Android because of poor support by device manufacturers and carriers for older devices? When people lament Android fragmentation that’s often what they mean, but that’s not developers’ fault.

Are they trying to stop device manufacturers from modifying the stock version of Android? In theory you could read those terms to mean that developers are prohibited from using the SDK to build apps that work better on one device than another. Is it fragmenting Android if a device manufacturer extends Android in some way and a developer builds an app that uses that extension? But if that’s the problem Google is tackling why not either (a) change the terms it works out with device partners to prohibit changes or (b) just close the Android source moving forward?

The most likely conclusion seems to be that they’re worried about Amazon. Amazon is also making tablets (and may be making a phone) by taking and branching the Android source code, but they’re confining the changes so that Android applications run fine on their tablets. You could read these terms as a play by Google to stop developers from building apps for Amazon’s tablets, since that would be contributing to fragmentation. And it could also be an attempt to deter others from following Amazon’s path.

It’ll be very interesting to see whether and how Google tries to enforce these terms against developers. And whether they’ll still try to insist that Android is open while doing it.

From → Mobile, Musings, Software

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