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Android and the Open Source Revolution

Updated on September 2, 2012

The Open Future

Android has been steadily gaining market share ever since it was first released. One of the biggest reasons for this popularity is the fact that Android is open source. Open source means that the source code is free to be used by anyone. It also means code is shared within the community for the benefit of everyone. Android is more than just an operating system. It is a community of device manufacturers, software developers--both private and volunteer, and end users all working together to create something bigger than themselves. This community even includes big names like Google, Samsung, and HTC.

Android is for Everyone

Google, Samsung, and HTC are constantly releasing their source code "into the wild" which allows developers, both private and volunteer, to work on improving Android. Android also shares code with Linux which is the original source of Android. Since both Android and Linux are open source, code is shared both upstream and downstream. Android benefits from Linux development and Linux benefits from Android development. These relationships work because Android is open source which means that anybody is free to use the code as they see fit. That is why you see Android devices manufactured by Samsung, Amazon, Google, Sony, HTC, Motorola, LG, Huawei, Dell, Toshiba, Acer, and Asus just to name a few. There are thousands of different Android devices, with dozens of different manufacturers and carriers supporting Android. However, tech giants like Google, Samsung, and HTC aren't the only ones contributing to Android.

AOSP 3D Gallery

Screenshot of AOSP 3D Gallery
Screenshot of AOSP 3D Gallery | Source

Socially Built Operating System

Communities of developers such as the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), CyanogenMod, XDA, and MIUI also contribute source to Android. The AOSP version of Android is built and maintained by the community. It is sort of a "socially" built operating system. Many of the features of Android that you see on your smartphone came from AOSP like the dialer and the text message app. Another great example is the the 3D Gallery that runs on some of the Samsung phones. Development also works in the other direction.

The release of source code by Google, HTC, and Samsung also allows the development community to transfer Androids latest features to some of its older phones. An example of this can be seen where people are running the new "Touchwiz Nature UX" from the Samsung Galaxy SIII on the Galaxy SII. This is the power of open source.

Samsung Galaxy SIII "Touchwiz UX" running on the Galaxy SII

Critics of Open Source

Android is not without critics. Competitors like Apple and their supporters have criticize Android for being unpolished, fragmented, and for a lack of support. Critics say that Apple iOS is better because it "just works". Android is often portrayed as experimental and broken. Another criticism is that Android is not unified and that too many devices are running different version of Android. There is also criticism aimed at manufacturers and carriers for not providing enough support and updates. Many of these criticism are not unwarranted. Even the biggest supporters of Android like Google admit to the problem of fragmentation. So how does fragmentation start?

Samsung Galaxy SIII (SHV-E210K/L/S)
Apple iPhone 4S
Quad-core 1.4 GHz Samsung Exynos
Dual-core 1.0 GHz Apple A5
2 GB
512 MB
16 GB / 32 GB / 64 GB
16 GB / 32 GB / 64 GB
LTE 100 Mbits/s
HSPA+ 14.4, CDMA / EDVO Rev. A
Display Size
Pixel Per Inch
Display Resolution
1280 x 720
960 x 640
Primary Camera
8 Megapixel
8 Megapixel
Secondary Camera
1.9 Megapixel
VGA (less than 1 Megapixel)
2,100 mAh removable
1,420 mAh fixed
133 grams
140 grams
136.6 × 70.6 × 9 mm
115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3mm
Comparison of Samsung Galaxy SIII vs iPhone 4s

A Soft Problem and A Hard Problem

Android's problems stem from their rapid development cycle. As Google releases source code too fast different developers are able to keep up at varying rates. This leads to fragmentation as some developers stay up to date with Google's release cycle and some fall behind. In turn, fragmentation puts added strain on development teams as they struggle to provide support for different versions of Android simultaneously. As development teams fall behind it becomes difficult for them to release updates since they are also trying to maintain older versions of Android at the same time. Google is addressing this problem by shifting their development focus.

Starting with Android 4.1 Jellybean, Google is slowing the release cycle of new Android versions to about one release per year. This will allow handset developers like HTC to catch up to the current version of Android. Reducing the number of releases will also allow both the Google developers and the rest of the community to shift the focus from developing new versions to stabilizing the current version. This developmental shift should also make it easier for manufacturers and carriers to provide updates as well technical support. As mentioned above most of Androids problems are software and this can all be fixed with development--through the release of updates and patches.

The problems that Apple have are hardware problems. They release phones that are technologically inferior. There are Android phones with quad-core 1.5 GHz processors. The iPhone 4S only has a dual-core 1 GHz processor. If you have an iPhone 4S then there is nothing you can do to solve this problem since there is nothing to upgrade to. There are Android phones that have 4G LTE modems. The iPhone 4S does not. There are many Android phones with a 4.3 inch screen while the iPhone 4S has a 3.5 inch screen. The best Android phone have 2 GB of RAM yet the iPhone 4S only has a quarter of that. The iPhone 4S does not have a removable battery nor does it have a micro SD card slot. Almost all of the Android phones have both. Apple's "The New iPad" has a dual-core 1 GHz processor and cost between $500 and $700 while Google's Nexus 7 has a quad-core 1.5 GHz processor and cost $199. The fact that Apple's hardware is substandard is a problem that cannot be fixed unless you switch to Android or wait another year for the next iteration of the iPhone or iPad. The only problem with waiting is that these devices are likely to be technologically obsolete on launch day just like its predecessors.

Android vs Apple

Android represents a change in the way people will relate to the operating system on their devices. People will become both consumer and producers of the operating system. Android is built by a community that includes handset developers, software developers, and the open source community. Android is the more inclusive operating system. Android includes the richest companies in the world like Google and Amazon as well as volunteers who do it for fun and want nothing more than a donation to their beer fund.

Android is the opposite of Apple. Where Android is open and inclusive, Apple is elitist and exclusive. Where Android develops and shares with everyone, Apple develops and sues everyone. Where Android is community developed and open, Apple iOS is internally developed, proprietary, and closed.

It will be difficult for Apple to compete against the rest world. They are only one company competing against an alliance of the worlds largest technology companies as well as the smartest and brightest minds of the open source community. The irony of this is the Android open source community includes people who are the original developers of Linux. Linux is the same source that Apple is building upon, yet they took that source closed it and are now selling it. This is not just a battle of Apple versus Android--it is a battle of competing philosophies. This is a battle between market or private driven software development versus open or community driven software development.

Google I/O 2012

Do You Think Android is the Future of Gadgets?

To answer the original question posted by vinner, "Do you think Android is the future of gadgets?"

Android is the now of gadgets.

The data shows this to be true. There are more Android users than there are iOS users and this has been true for a while now. Everyday over a million Android devices are activated and today there are over 400 million activated Android devices world-wide. There is also no indication in the data that this trend is going to change. Android is built for the future both in its philosophy and in its hardware. Android software was founded on the principle of openess which allows the software to grow and evolve to fits the needs of the users. This idea is reflected in its hardware as well. The latest Android devices are built with hardware that are powerful enough to run tomorrow's software. You can see in the first video a Samsung Galaxy SII running software from the new Galaxy SIII.

The Now of Android

World-Wide Smartphone Sales
World-Wide Smartphone Sales | Source


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      good blog thank you for sharing..

    • Gamerelated profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Hello sparkster, thank you for taking the time to give us input from a developer's perspective. This is great for us because we don't always get to hear what developers think and I am unable to offer that perspective personally since I don't have Android development experience.

      Development is at the heart of open source therefore Android will only be as good as the developers are. I hope Google does more to improve Android for the developers because Android and open source won't work without the developers.

    • Gamerelated profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Hello Wesley Meacham, you are right about Apple not going anywhere. They are not fully out of the PC market either, but for a very long time they were marginalized. They have had a slight resurgence in the PC and laptop market because of the increasing overall popularity of their brand, but they are still far from relevant in the PC market. The most generous estimate of Apple in the PC market is that they broke 5% for the first time in 2011 and they are expected to have 5.2% of the market in 2012. I understand that smartphones are a trendier market and the PC market is based more on utility.

      You are right that people just want to be seen carrying around the Apple brand, but like all trendy things--fashion is fickle. I am not sure if fashion will be enough to keep them relevant in the smartphone market. The Samsung Galaxy SIII had 9 million pre-orders vs the iPhone 4S only having 4 million pre-orders.

      Thank you for taking the time to write a very thoughtful comment. I appreciate it.

    • sparkster profile image

      Sparkster Publishing 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Good article. However, I have been working with computers and computer programming since I was a teenager (over 20 years) and after attempting to delve into Android development it soon became clear that the software needed is just plain ridiculous, doesn't work 98% of the time and the structure and rules of an Android project makes things overwhelmingly difficult, unreliable and complicated when they don't need to be.

      Attempting to become an Android developer is enough to put anyone off computer programming for life!

    • Wesley Meacham profile image

      Wesley Meacham 

      6 years ago from Wuhan, China

      I don't think that Apple will lose exactly...

      Apple has a cult like following (which is enough to make people like me never buy an Apple product). Most of the people buying Apple products are not technologically savvy like you guys. They are just people who want to own an Apple because they believe that it is cool and trendy. They'll willingly pay more money for the product simply because it displays that Apple logo. What they're really paying for is the ability to have other people see them using a product with the Apple logo on it.

      This is especially true in markets like China where many companies actually produce fake iPhones. The consumers know that the phone is fake and that it doesn't have all of the features or capabilities of a real iPhone. But they don't care about these things. They only care about other people thinking that they can own an iPhone. Since the fake phones all have the little Apple logo prominently displayed they accomplish exactly what the consumer wants.

      Having said all that....

      I generally prefer open source products. I use OpenOffice as well as Paint.NET on my laptop. The only time I touch Microsoft Office is when I'm forced to do so at work. OOo does everything I need it to at the most reasonable price you can ask for; free. I've no doubt that an open source operating system like Android will at some point surpass Apple in it's capabilities, if it hasn't already.

      I don't like Apple. I don't like the zombie like nature of their customers or the limitations that the company creates and enforces on their customers. However I don't think that the company is going anywhere. They have a foothold on the market (31.9% is honestly fairly strong even if it is second to Android). And I don't believe that they will lose much if any ground. If they do they'll likely gain it back somewhere else or later on.

      This article was enjoyable. Voting up, interesting, useful and sharing.

    • Gamerelated profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      You are right about Ubuntu and Android becoming more popular. It all starts with the philosophy of Open Source and that is the philosophy that says that software should be free for people to use and build upon for the benefit of the community. It is said that Ubuntu is named after a southern African philosophy that means "humanity towards others".

    • dwachira profile image

      [ Danson Wachira ] 

      6 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      I have seen the market share for open source increase over the years and one reason that has contributed to this is closed source such as Windows being too rigid and hence becoming increasingly unpopular. I see a bright future for open source such as Ubuntu and Android that clients are slowly but surely migrating to. This is a great article, voted up and useful.

    • Gamerelated profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Thank you for your words of encouragement, ChristyWrites. I look forward to reading your Hubs as well. I will be following you and I am sure I could learn a lot.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      These are great points, especially for someone new to HubPages! I will be following you to read more as the subjects interest me too.

    • Gamerelated profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      I am new here on HubPages, so this means a lot to me. I have been apprehensive about writing for years because I was afraid that people would not read my writing or that people would comment negatively. Thank you mperrottet for your encouragement.

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 

      6 years ago from San Antonio, FL

      As a retired software developer I of course had to go the open source route, and bought an android based tablet and phone. Apple is just too proprietary, and I think that eventually they will loose out on the market. Good hub - voted up and interesting.

    • Gamerelated profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      The last figures I saw were on Engadget's website and they stated that Android had 50.9% of the market while Apple had 31.9%. The rest of the market was controlled by RIM (Blackberry OS), Microsoft, and Symbian. The date of the article was 02 July 2012. Thank you for reading and commenting on my article.


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