Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish

When news came that Amazon would start selling Android phones subsidized with ads on the lock screen, I quipped on Twitter by asking how long it would take Google to wrest control of the lock screen by making it part of the closed source Google Play. Now less than a month later, Ars Technica is reporting that Google will not only take control of the Android lock screen, but the whole System UI:

In Android, the System UI is a huge deal since it’s responsible for much of the base operating system. It handles the bottom navigation bar, the top status bar, the notification panel, Quick Settings, Recent Apps, the lock screen, the volume controls, and the power button long-press menu. The new Nexus devices are apparently going to replace the open source System UI with a proprietary APK called the “Google System UI.”

Carriers and handset makers’ inability and unwillingness to push updates of any sort, including those vital to their customers’ security, gives Google a very good reason to shift as much of Android to their control by any means possible, but migrating functionality to Play also effectively replaces open source Android with Google proprietary code. While it’s certainly reasonable to expect that Google’s applications and services like YouTube or GMail would remain proprietary, it seems open source Android functionality is increasingly being migrated to closed source for the sole strategic benefit of Google. Additionally, as functionality is added to Play, any open source counterpart in Android languishes without Google’s vast resources. Shouldn’t there be some push or expectation to keep generic functionality like the System Webview or UI as open source even after they transition to Google Play? Where is the blowback? This is the company that in 2010 said:

“If you believe in openness, if you believe in choice, if you believe in innovation from everyone, then welcome to Android”.

The lack of any significant protest even as large swaths of Android are increasingly replaced with Google’s own proprietary code suggests to me that a vast majority of Android users don’t see and never saw the value of open source. Google’s lack of interest to open source anything on Play further cements the idea that Android was never about openness and choice, but rather about adoption and marketshare.