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Android is now huge. Just earlier this year, Android surpassed Symbian and BlackBerry to become the mobile OS with the highest market share in the whole world. Given Android just started its life less than three years ago (October 2008), that is an impressive feat. I guess that’s the power of open source.
One thing that Android has its edge over competitive is choices. Not only you’ll find the usual candy bar, there’s qwerty slider and qwerty candy bar. Heck, they even made a new Sidekick out of Android. However, these choices are coming back as a boomerang to not manufacterers or Google, but their users.
If you have been following news lately, you’ll undoubtedly remember the incident where some German researchers found security flaws in Google Calendar and Contacts, a flaw in which a hacker could override a user’s calendar and contacts data, and not only view it, but also modify them. Thankfully, Google figured that this was something that could be done in server side, and closed the loophole quite quickly. During this study, these researchers also have found that Android 2.3.4 was not affected of this loophole before the tech giant closed it. By the way, guess how much percentage of Android phones in the WHOLE world have 2.3.4 on board. 5? 20? Nope. 0.3%. Because up until now, only the global version of Nexus S got the firmware.
Then, let’s just assume that Google could not solve this problem over the server. That would mean the remaining 99.7% of Android phones (so, pretty much every single one of them) was affected with this problem. And users would have to wait for not Google, but manufacturers and (usually) carriers to update the software. Making the problem worse, most of these ‘Gingerbread’ updates that these guys are pushing out are usually based on 2.3.3, not 2.3.4. Meaning, even after the Gingerbread update, users would have been still vulnerable to this problem. (Sony Ericsson did make an exception by saying that they will deploy 2.3.4 updates to Xperia Arc and Play, which already come with Gingerbread installed)
This is where problems start to creep up in Android-world. These software updates not only contain new features, but also bug fixes. (Well, they’re mostly bug fixes.) Android takes unusually long time to update its software in most cases: Google pushes out the updates, and manufacturers and (usually) carriers has to customize it for each device. So it takes long time for users to get the updates they need not only to get new features, but also to patch bugs. (It takes at least 4 months for these clowns to ‘customize’ the software.) So, Android has very weak defense against these emergency situations. This problem gets worse, as most manufactures tend to skip x.x.1 updates of Android, due to costs. Which is kinda understandable, given these updates mostly cost the manufacturers, rather than benefit them.
Let’s think about Apple now, which were also recently given its own emergency situation. You’ll remember its famous location data case few weeks back. When faced with this, it took Apple 1.5 weeks to patch it up, and deploy it to iPhones out in the world. Carriers needed not (more like ‘should not’) to be involved in this, and users just got it straight to their iPhones and they were good to go. It is much faster than ‘at least’ four months in case of Android.
So, let’s cue the title above. Has Android become too massive? At least I think so. I believe that open source OS like Android is very vulnerable to scale. It’s like a tank vulnerable to a swift foot soldier with some C4s. What happens afterwards is… well, you get the idea, especially if you have played Call of Duty. This is the problem of Android. There are so many variations of Android now, which means it cannot act swiftly enough to a small bug that can critically damage the user experience, or user’s private data, in this case.
Google keeps touting Android’s open source-ness, criticizing competitng ‘closed system’ for it. However, I believe that Google has to solve problems that very open source-ness brings, rather than shovel their fingers into their ears shouting, “I can’t hear you!” That doesn’t look very convincing to me.
P.S) But then, there’s also Windows Phone 7, with its closed system and somehow plaguing itself from same problems. No comment on that.