Why is Google Turning Other Devices into Nexii with AOSP ROM Support?


What is the AOSP? According to Google, the Android Open Source Project refers to the people, the processes, and the source code that make up Android.

“The people oversee the project and develop the actual source code. The processes refer to the tools and procedures we use to manage the development of the software. The net result is the source code that you can use to build cell phone and other devices.”

Part of the AOSP is essentially a repository for ROMs, the software that we run on our phones and tablets. Not only is the generic, “core” operating system tucked away inside the AOSP, but support for specific devices resides there as well.

Which devices are targeted? Essentially, if it has “Nexus” in its name you’ll find it supported by the AOSP.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. T-Mobile‘s G1 (aka “Dream”) and Motorola‘s Xoom (aka “Wingray”) are also included in the AOSP. Both of these were “launch” or “partner” devices, made by companies that Google worked hand-in-hand with to release a new version of the operating system, with Google Apps pre-packaged, and devoid of any bloatware or custom skins.

The Sony Xperia (Nexus) S?

Why then would Google announce AOSP support for the Sony Xperia S?

Google’s Jean-Baptiste Queru, the Technical Lead for the AOSP, announced something very interesting just before the Xperia XL was announced:

“For a new challenge, I’d like to try to go one step further, and to target some hardware beyond the usual categories. I’ve added a git project for the Sony LT26, i.e. Xperia S. This seems like a good target: it’s a powerful current GSM device, with an unlockable bootloader, from a manufacturer that has always been very friendly to AOSP.”

This is a great “experiment”, but why? What’s really behind this move?

Open-Source Drivers

This makes open-source drivers available for this device. Drivers are what delay custom ROMs more than anything else. Making these drivers available as open-source through the AOSP will bootstrap development of more custom ROMs.

A Sony Nexus?

Could this be an indicator that we’ll see a Sony Nexus device? Some think so. I’m not one of them. Why? Google hasn’t done that before, I don’t see any reason for them to change their ways now. Perhaps you feel differently, in which case please let us know why in the comments.

Updates from OEM Are Too Slow!

You won’t find any argument from anyone that updates from OEMs are too slow — except maybe from the OEMs themselves. By adding AOSP support, users would have access to the latest Android updates almost immediately after being released. With various tools on the market which allow easy, OTA updates for custom ROMs, users would have an incentive to abandon OEM-proprietary ROMs and instead use a standard, native-Android ROM.

Lawsuit Protection?

Lastly, and this is my personal belief, this could be a move by Google to entice manufactures to put ROMs for all their devices into the AOSP. I know, that sounds crazy, but hear me out.

Apparently everyone likes to sue everyone else. If you haven’t heard anything about technology companies suing each other: Hello! Welcome to Pocketnow!

All sarcasm aside, Apple is suing Samsung, Samsung is suing Apple, Oracle was suing Google… I could go on and on, but you’d get terribly bored after the third page of legal actions. It’s that last case that really interests me.

Google was sued by Oracle over their use of Java in Android. Luckily for all us Android users, the case came out in our favor, with the ruling that APIs cannot be patented, and open-source software that infringes “a little bit” on proprietary software is “fair use”.

The AOSP is, by its very definition, open-source. The AOSP is run by Google. Google has deep pockets.

Could putting the Xperia S into the AOSP be Google’s quiet offering of amnesty or a safe-haven for OEMs to be protected from lawsuits surrounding software patents?

Samsung, for example, tired of being sued over their use of “similar-looking icons” of those used in iOS, could simply fall back to the AOSP for their devices. If Apple (or anyone else) wanted to sue, they’d have to sue the AOSP, not Samsung.

Further, this would remove the carrier from the bargaining table. Carriers tend to lock-down and muddy ROMs on “their” devices to “protect” their networks, offer “exclusive” apps, or “encourage” users to replace their old devices to get the latest versions of the OS (and extend their contracts in the process). Additionally, updates would come much more frequently and consistently across devices supported by the AOSP, putting to rest the “Android Fragmentation” flag that critics are so happy to wave at every opportunity.

What Do You Think?

Now that we’ve biased you with our opinions, we want to know your thoughts! Why is Google supporting the Xperia S in the AOSP? Sound off in the comments!

Source: Google Groups
Via: XDA-Developers, Android Police, NeoWin, Android Central, The Verge

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.