Android openness may not be all it is meant to be

padlock[1] The closed nature of the Apple platform has let it in for a lot of criticism, especially when that closed nature affects e-books or e-book applications. For example, Apple famously made David Carnoy change a swear word in his first iteration of the Knife Music appbook (though let it through in a later version), and rejected an e-book app for being able to access the public domain Kama Sutra e-book. And let’s not forget the great mature app purge, which probably caught some e-book-related apps as well.

A number of people have been touting cell phones based on the competing Android operating system for their greater degree of “openness”. The Android operating system is open source (excepting for certain apps that Google keeps to itself) which means that users and coders should have a greater degree of freedom over what they can do with it, right?

Wrong, says TechCrunch’s MG Siegler. The OS may be open, but fly in the ointment is that this very openness also gives carriers freedom to mess with it in ways that they can’t mess with Apple’s iPhone.

Carriers can and do add unnecessary apps and prevent them from being removed. They can lock down features such as the ability to install apps without going through an app store, or tethering. And they can fail to update their devices to newer versions of the OS as they become available. Siegler writes:

My point is not to bash Google — what they’ve created is an excellent mobile operating system. My point is that the same “openness” that Android users are touting as a key selling point of the OS could very well end up being its weak point. If you don’t think Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are going to try to commandeer the OS in an attempt to return to their glory days where we were all slaves to their towers, you’re being naive.

Of course, there’s no reason to expect Android tablets will fall victim to this to the same degree (at least, the ones that don’t come tethered to carriers, like the Dell Streak), but it’s still an important point to consider. What’s better, a system where only the operating system developer can screw with a device’s capabilities—or one where potentially everyone but the consumer can?

Although such messing may not be done with a primary goal of censorship, it can certainly be used to that effect—something that any lover of books should keep in mind.

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