As we all know, or heard at one time or the other, Android is an open source software. Anyone can take it up and play with it. This is the major factor behind its growth and domination of the smartphone market. Android being free has also led to the emergence of various Android flavours also known as ‘forks’.
So What is an Android fork?
Any time anyone takes the existing (original Android) code, and starts an independent project based on it, they’ve created a fork. It involves downloading the code,using it as a base and forming their own project with it. Samsung does it (Touchwiz), HTC does it (Sense UI), and your favorite ROM developer might do it too. When a fork is made, what you get to see can be very different from what is obtainable on stock Android.
Developing a fork isn’t a good venture. Neither is it a bad one. Android is dominant, so Google turned the trend to their own advantage such that when you create an Android fork, chances of it being a success is near zero. Let’s use a few points to clarify this:
Google tied down the G-Apps
Android as a whole is made up of 2 parts, the open parts from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which is the foundation of Android, and the closed source parts which are the Google-branded apps or G-Apps as I refer to them. These apps include Gmail, Maps, Talk (Hangouts), YouTube, Google Play Store, Google Play Services, Google Play Music, Google Keyboard, Google Calender etc. These apps were taken from the AOSP code, updated, and moved to Google Play Store. Once this transition happens, further development of any such app ends on the AOSP code.
This implies that whoever wants to make a fork, now has more work to do, updating these various apps. Google being unable to shut down the ‘open source’ project, chose to kill it off in parts such that any competing fork will be compelled to use the G-Apps or suffer to develop them on their own. Consequently, permission to use the G-Apps can only be granted by Google after you agree to their terms.
Google tied down the best of Manufacturers
Before any hardware vendor can run an OS using the (closed) G-Apps, they must be part of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) license agreement. Being part of this agreement ensures you’re free to use the G-Apps and also abide by other rules set by Google including a ban from making a device that runs a competing Android fork. Taking up a clone or fork means you’ll be kicked out, and that spells doom for you as a manufacturer.
You try to be Good, and Google gets better
As an Android clone maker, (after refusing to bow to Google) when you successfully find a decent vendor to make your hardware, you’re now left with the almighty task of building apps to replicate the G-Apps. Who has the time, resources and brains to efficiently build, an Apps Store, Maps/Location Service, Email client, Calender App and all other services that make Google’s Android bliss?
Even when you succeed in making these apps, Google keeps getting better and better with the services they have in place. What are the chances that you’ll end up fruitful with your new venture – which clearly, is competing with Google? And what are the chances that people will abandon their Google service for your own? You carry winch? 😛
Attracting User Base and Making Profit
The essence of any business is making profit. Over to you, our Android fork maker!! After possibly investing everything in building your OS and all other services, will it be good enough to attract fans? Will you have enough follower-ship? Will you end up making profit?
The Only Hope
The most successful complete Android fork has been Amazon with their Kindle. They have done well to replicate the Google Apps, but they still lack the numbers, and financially, I don’t think they’re doing well either.
The Chinese too have banned Google services in their region, and also have replicated some of the Google services. They’re the only ones, I believe that have the resources and man-power to clone Android successfully.
So all ye fork makers and aspirants, Android isn’t as ‘open’ as you think, and you have a choice to make: either give Google control, and enjoy all the benefits of Android, or snatch control from Google and get nothing.
For further reading : Neither Microsoft, Nokia, nor Anyone should fork Android