The Android realm is not a physical place, else we would have seen flags flying at half-mast and heard announcements made over school loudspeakers – Jean-Baptiste Quéru, godfather of the Android Open Source Project and one of the most influential figures in the ongoing development of the platform, abruptly stepped down from his position as AOSP maintainer this week.
Though JBQ, as he’s generally known, didn’t give explicit reasons for the move, the clever people over at Android Police quickly connected the dots from some of his recent Twitter activity, which bemoaned legal interference in the AOSP release process. Specifically, Quéru’s frustrations about being barred from releasing critical binaries for the new-model Nexus 7 tablet appear to have boiled over.
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What’s strongly implied by the Android Police analysis is that Qualcomm, which makes the chipset for the new Nexus 7, has been making it impossible to get fully open-source versions of the software to work properly, withholding code essential for hardware support.
In a subsequent Google+ post, Quéru more or less confirmed this.
“Well, I see that people have figured out why I’m quitting AOSP,” he wrote. “There’s no point being the maintainer of an Operating System that can’t boot to the home screen on its flagship device for lack of GPU support, especially when I’m getting the blame for something that I don’t have authority to fix myself and that I had anticipated and escalated more than 6 months ahead.”
The reaction from the community has been generalized dismay, with sorrowful posts highlighting JBQ’s importance to AOSP and Android in general, as well as widespread rancor directed at Qualcomm.
AOSP’s curiously bifurcated nature – the underlying OS is open-source, but Google can’t distribute the fully open version for a given device unless the OEM gives permission to distribute its proprietary binaries – always makes this sort of issue a bit hazy and complex, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Quéru had every right to be upset. Given that anyone can simply grab the closed-source binaries from the device itself, refusing to give AOSP permission to distribute is puzzling, to say the least.
While the usual caveats about unconfirmed information apply – Quéru himself seems to have some legal obligations that prevent him from speaking explicitly on the subject – it certainly seems as though JBQ’s exit should have been avoidable, and it’s a shame that it wasn’t. Android Authority says it’s “unlikely” that he’ll actually leave Google, but AOSP has nonetheless lost a father figure.
Speaking of Qualcomm, their latest Snapdragon 800 is powering the just-announced LG G2, according to the many tech blogs that got an early hands-on with the device. In contrast to the recently released Moto X, the G2 is a much more traditional Android flagship – an outsized, feature-packed whopper of a phone, with as many megapixels, GB and GHz as can possibly be crammed into its considerable frame.
From a design perspective, the G2’s big innovations are having lost LG’s well-worn “Optimus” moniker and putting some of the controls – including the power and volume keys – on the back of the phone instead of somewhere on the side. I have no idea if this is a silly gimmick or a revolutionary answer to the problem of oversized smartphones – and I won’t until I actually get my hands on one – but it’s at least a creative attempt.
The latest smartphone market share report from IDC says that Android’s global smartphone market share has risen to nearly 80% - up from just below 70% a year before. Sound like great news for Android, right?
Not so fast, says comScore. In the U.S., at least, Android subscriber numbers were flat during 2013’s second quarter, while Apple’s rose slightly. The Guardian also cites a Yankee Group study as saying that Android’s market dynamics indicate that Apple will retake the lead next year.
While they’ve obviously done their homework more assiduously than I have – which is to say, they’ve done some homework – I still have a hard time seeing Android losing too much ground back to That Other Smartphone absent a massively successful launch of the next-gen iPhone. Given that the last couple of iterations haven’t quite matched the stratospheric heights reached by their predecessors, that’s far from a guarantee.
Still, the U.S. market is more heavily Apple-centric than that of the world in general – more like 52% to 40%, according to the aforementioned numbers from comScore, so Apple’s still within striking distance.
After the Moto X took some lumps on Twitter about its slightly-less-than-cutting-edge specs, Motorola designer Iqbal Arshad slammed critics in an interview with ZDNet.
He said that comparing raw specs misses the point, asserting that the Moto X is architected so differently that such measurements are meaningless.
“So it's hard to understand because you're comparing architectures that are fundamentally different. It's kind of like people who are looking at a Tesla electric car and expecting it to have a V-8 engine. When you talk about an electric motor, it's hard for people who are used to comparing specs on traditional cars to understand how it truly compares, because it's completely different,” he said.
He would say that, of course, given that his company is the one charging the same price for less powerful hardware, but he has a point – the Moto X’s voice command and power-saving technologies are a bit more compelling than the avalanche of goofy camera modes. Still, if you’re just in it for pure performance, the ability to say “OK Google, advise me on purchasing decisions” or whatever probable doesn’t cut it for you.
Email Jon Gold at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.