“Android Is As Open As The Clenched Fist I’d Like To Punch The Carriers With”

That is the title of this article, which does a great job of laying out the pitfalls of what Jonathan Zittrain calls generativity in the context of the Droid. Most people can’t take direct advantage of the generativity themselves, and without a legal framework that gives them rights as consumers they are at the mercy of the markets. Here is an excerpt:

The thought of a truly open mobile operating system is very appealing. The problem is that in practice, that’s just simply not the reality of the situation. Maybe if Google had their way, the system would be truly open. But they don’t. Sadly, they have to deal with a very big roadblock: the carriers.

The result of this unfortunate situation is that the so-called open system is quickly revealing itself to be anything but. Further, we’re starting to see that in some cases the carriers may actually be able to exploit this “openness” to create a closed system that may leave you crying for Apple’s closed system — at least theirs looks good and behaves as expected.

Case in point: the last couple of Android phones I’ve gotten as demo units from Google: the EVO 4G and the Droid 2, have been loaded up with crapware installed by the carriers (Sprint and Verizon, respectively). Apple would never let this fly on the iPhone, but the openness of Android means Google has basically no say in the matter. Consumers will get the crapware and they’ll like it. Not only that, plenty of this junk can’t even be uninstalled. How’s that for “open”? …

… Apple gets crap for not supporting phones that are three years old with OS updates — the open Android system can’t even upgrade phones that are only a few months old in some cases — again, all thanks to the carriers.

The excuses for why this is run rampant. They need to tweak their custom skins, they need to test the new software, etc. It’s all a bunch of garbage. This is an open platform and yet you’re more restricted than on Apple’s supposedly closed one.

What happens when Verizon won’t update your phone to the latest greatest Android software — not because they can’t, but because they want you to upgrade to a new piece of hardware and sign the new two-year agreement that comes along with it? The game remains the same.

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.

“Open” is great until you have to define it or defend it. I’m not sure Google can continue to do either in this situation.

And before all of you pros storm the comments with how great it is to root your Android phones, consider the average consumers here. They are the ones being screwed by this exploitation of “open.” …

I am not a disinterested observer. I bought a Droid about 8 months ago and it has been a mixed bag. Particularly annoying is the fact that I cannot use Skype to make any domestic calls, or even certain kinds of international calls, even though I pay a lot each month for “3G” Internet access. Verizon allows me only “Skype Mobile” and thwarts every other VOIP possibility I have tried.