Google says it will delay the distribution of its newest Android source code, dubbed "Honeycomb," at least for the foreseeable future. The search giant says the software, which is tailored specifically for tablet computers that compete against Apple's iPad, is not yet ready to be altered by outside programmers and customized for other devices, such as phones.
In the past, Google has given device makers early access to versions of Android so they could work on their products. It would then typically release the source code to the masses a few months later, letting all comers do what they want with the code. OEMs like HTC, Samsung Electronics, Motorola Mobility Holdings, and other big manufacturers already have access to Honeycomb.
As to why Google is holding back Honeycomb, its reasons are actually rather rational. Honeycomb, while originally intended to run on all mobile form factors, is only ready for deployment on tablets. "To make our schedule to ship the tablet, we made some design tradeoffs," says Andy Rubin, the head of Google's Android group. "We didn't want to think about what it would take for the same software to run on phones. It would have required a lot of additional resources and extended our schedule beyond what we thought was reasonable. So we took a shortcut."
Rubin says that if Google were to open-source the Honeycomb code now, as it has with other versions of Android at similar periods in their development, it couldn't prevent developers from putting the software on phones "and creating a really bad user experience. We've no idea if it'll even work on phones."
"Android is an open-source project," he adds. "We've not changed our strategy."
Over the past few weeks, Google has notified device makers of its change in plans with Honeycomb. Android executives have also been telling companies that Google will likely wait to make another open-source distribution of Android software until it completes the next version, called "Ice Cream."
''In short, Google is simply trying to prevent sloppy implementation of a slick OS. The company doesn't want to see more gaffes like tablets running Froyo or earlier mobile OSes -- and Google sees phones running Honeycomb as an equally inept implementation.''
To us, it sounds like Google has realized that Android's massive fragmentation and the dilution of a unified, understandable user experience is a bad thing. After all, when you advertise a device as an Android device, the user should have some idea of what they're getting into, and that simply isn't the case right now. Google's shift towards a more-closed system with Honeycomb could represent a shift to a much tighter and contiguous user experience across all Android devices.