updated 11:25 pm EDT, Wed March 30, 2011
Google pushing to standardize Android 3, ARM
Google may be pushing for much more consistency not just in Android 3.0 but also in the ARM processors that power it, notebook makers claimed late Wednesday. Details of the process were vague, but it was implied it would be more than just the decision to temporarily hold off on source code. Fears exist that the company could "become another Microsoft," Digitimes said, where developers have less access to the base of the OS.
It would also reportedly press for a more consistent implementation of ARM chips. How this would work was again unexplained. It would most likely be to discourage certain kinds of customization beyond the basic ARM architecture and would remove problems with "difficulty upgrading," according to the tips. Device makers would reportedly get a quicker turnaround time, and Google would get more consistent quality.
Any restrictions on a chip like NVIDIA's Tegra 2 are doubtful, since its custom GeForce graphics are key to its performance, but it may be keen to avoid any deliberately whittled back releases or very basic implementations.
Google hasn't commented on any of the rumors.
The move if as significant as implied would be a big break from Google's practices with phones. Outside of a handful of core components, phone designers are free to modify much of Android, even important parts such as the lock screen and the dialer. Many use this to arbitrarily differentiate their hardware, but it often has the drawback of splintering the OS from the main Android track. The effect most often leads to months-long upgrade delays. In some cases, it can lead to orphan phones that are never upgraded past their initial OS releases or which end up missing out on certain key apps.
Apple has often insisted on a singular, consistent OS for its devices when possible with very little customization from users or carriers. The experience has been criticized for a lack of freedoms but has had the upside of allowing much faster device upgrades and avoiding interference from carriers that might otherwise insist on unwanted custom apps or limiting the built-in features.
Android 3.0 has so far been relatively consistent and will behave identically on the Motorola Xoom, LG Optimus Pad and a handful of other devices, many of whom are using the same processors. Mild customization is already starting to creep in through tablets like the Galaxy Tab 8.9 and new 10.1, though, and might a flag to Google to start clamping down on what hardware builders can modify.