In the last couple of months, there have been two major announcements about Android development. The first was when Google announced it was clamping down on UI changes handset makers were adding to the basic Android user interface. The second announcement was when HTC very recently announced it is opening up the Sense UI source and releasing a Software Developer Kit (SDK) this summer.
I believe that the first announcement would benefit the Android OS, especially from a support point of view. There are so many variations on the Android UI that it makes it challenging for support, especially within a large business. Because of this, many companies insist their employees stick with the iPhone. After all, the iPhone follows a standard, so supporting one is just like supporting another. The Android phone has had some trouble making inroads into the larger enterprise companies, and I suspect that was fuel for the fire kindling for the first announcement.
But what about the announcement about the opening of the source of Sense UI and the release of the SDK? This comes on the heels of an announcement by HTC that it is no longer going to lock the bootloader on its handsets. This means that a developer (or a user) can try a different variation of the Android stack if they want. The announcement was received quite well by the Android community, as many users choose Android based on flexibility and freedom. So now, HTC handsets have unlocked bootloaders, and the Sense UI layer has had the source set free.
The following is pure conjecture on my part; I have no inside information from HTC or Google.
The movements on the chessboard seem to indicate that HTC is positioning itself to make a fairly significant move. Let's put this into perspective first:
- HTC has put considerable time and effort into the creation, development, and improvement into its UI, and it shows; it's one of the best third-party interfaces for the Android OS.
- Google is forcing its hand in an attempt to better standardize the elements of the platform.
- HTC certainly wouldn't want to see it's investment into Sense UI go away.
It would be fairly easy for one to put those pieces together to form the hypothesis that HTC is planning a fork of Android with Sense UI being the interface. With it being open source, HTC and Sense UI would be a very attractive draw to thousands of developers across the planet. There have already been rumors about Android being forked by various developers, so why should that end at HTC? After all, HTC offers some of the most powerful Android phones on the market, including the HTC EVO, the HTC Incredible, the HTC Sensation, the HTC ThunderBolt, and the HTC Inspire. With that lineup of devices, it would make sense that HTC would not want another company dictating what could or could not go onto its hardware. HTC does not want Google clamping down, with Apple-like strength on its development process.
Can you imagine the worldwide user appeal of a fork of Android that would most likely be completely open source? Not only would Linux users flock to HTC, but power users (users who are big fans of rooting their devices) would also come in droves. HTC would rule the Android market.
The big questions are: Is this a smart move for HTC? Would an open version of Android and Sense UI (assuming HTC would open its fork of Android) be good for HTC? Would it be a smart move for the mobile market?
In my opinion, the Sense UI is one of the best UIs on the market and is powered by some of the most powerful handsets available. If Google clamps down too hard, HTC could do the unthinkable and migrate all of its mobiles to the Windows Phone 7 OS (such as is on the DROID Incredible 2). With that said and my opinion on open source in the mix, I gladly would welcome an HTC fork of the Android platform. When you couple this with the open Sense UI and the soon-to-be-released SDK, and HTC could easily have on its hands a serious victory in the mobile market. HTC could also have at its disposal plenty of developers working with a standardized tool (the SDK), which means faster development, faster bug squashing, and faster deployment (which is something HTC is well known for lagging behind).
What do you think?
Could these announcements be leading up to a fork of Android? If so, is that good or bad for the mobile market?
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.