Every year during CES, the annual consumer electronics show that takes place in Las Vegas, millions decide what to buy in the latest tech. From phones to VR headsets to personalized cars, consumers have a large variety to choose from. However, one of the most difficult decisions to make is, do I get the iPhone or the Android?
Although I’m an Android user myself, I won’t be discussing iOS versus Android in regards to functionality or capabilities but rather one underlying feature of Android that many overlook: open sourcing.
Open source software has existed for decades. At its core, open sourcing allows people from around the world to chip in ideas, code, and watch out for any existing flaws (1). In an open source environment, a patch is immediately sent out to fix millions of devices around the world. Hackers would have a very narrow window to exploit the flaw. Additionally, since many people can see the existing code for a software (known as source code), it’s open to developers (people who program) to try new things. It’s like having many scientists conducting their own experiments for the common good.
A bit of background about Android. Android was initially cultured by Google as an open source operating system for small devices such as tablets and phones. Like its parent software, Linux, the base code for Android was open source for all to use (2). But why can’t Apple do the same? It’s simply a matter of different business models. Apple believes in having its own engineers develop iOS rather than allowing the community to chip in. This is evident across their series of iPhones. It’s very hard to install something that isn’t on the app store, and any modifications not done through either the iOS software or App Store is difficult. If you’re not an Android user, this is simply not the case. On Android, users can download modifications that aren’t approved by Google on their devices. However, there is a drawback to this. Recently, Fortnite decided to circumvent Google’s Play store to avoid paying fees. However, many apps like Fortnite often can be unstable and prone to crashing. But many are asking if Android is so open, isn’t it prone to hacking?
Yes, but it’s improving. With thousands of people on the lookout, Android developers can immediately throw in a patch and solve the existing flaw. Unlike iOS, Android users also have more control over their devices which could potentially shield the user from potential viruses or malware. Thanks to Google’s business model, millions are enjoy an open, flexible, and useful operating system. However, there’s a catch.
Google does not profit from Android if it doesn’t control Android’s core features. Google is merely a facilitator, allowing people to chip in ideas. In the end, Google has the final say in how android is truly structured. Most users won’t see Google’s restrictions unless they dig deep down into the code. Recently, Google has been fined by the European Union for violating antitrust laws regarding Android. Google mandates that some activities on the phone MUST go through or use Google’s pre-installed services/apps. This restricts any third party usage or activity on phones. Moreover, Google also restricted some vendors, which are companies who use Android on their devices like Samsung, Huawei, HTC, etc., from employing custom versions of Android. Rather, they must adhere to “stock Android”, versions of Android that Google has created, or versions of Android that are highly restricted.
However, to this date, Android is the most popular open source operating system for phones, tablets, and even some computers and remains relatively free from Google’s own influence. Android isn’t just a piece of software but rather a collective effort by society to create something better for all to use. With new ideas spurring from all over the globe, Android receives more functionality and security, something that iOS doesn’t have.
- “What Is Open Source?” Opensource.com, opensource.com/resources/what-open-source.
- “Android Open Source Project.” Android Open Source Project, source.android.com/.