Android is often lauded as the most open of the platforms, and probably with good reason: it allows for the most homescreen customization, the most desktop-like browser and email experiences, and the easiest method of sideloading applications. But there are still some areas in which Android is fairly restrictive in giving users the ability to freely utilize all the functionality of the device that they purchased.

A prime example of this heavy hand is the built-in Gmail client’s refusal to handle compressed files in Ice Cream Sandwich, telling you only that their potential to contain malicious software makes saving or opening them impossible. This restriction might sense for the entry-level user, but even an unlocked, rooted device won’t let you pull down or view the contents of a ZIP, RAR, TAR, GZ, or any other compressed file format. Jailbroken iPhones — notoriously locked-down handsets — by comparison, can download, unzip, and display the contents of a compressed file without issue.

I do believe that Google is honestly trying to address the issue of viruses and trojans spreading via ZIP, but since desktops and laptops can download those files just fine even in the face of a much more evolved malware ecosystem, there has to be more to the story than just security concerns. It seems to me that of equal or greater importance here is the attempt to curb the transfer of APK files between users — APK being the compressed file format used to package full Android applications. In other words, there may be an anti-piracy motivation too; after all, the native email clients also refuse to send out APK files as attachments.

Neither iOS nor Windows Phone will let you easily mail an application file off of the device either, of course. But with Android, all you need to do to bypass the email restriction on APKs is to zip them up and send them compressed. So it seems possible that Google programmers could be trying to close the upstream loophole by making those same zipped APK files impossible to access on the downstream. Now you could always send the file to yourself, unzip it on a PC, and send the uncompressed APK to whomever, but this method would seem to thwart off at least casual would-be file sharers.

Of course there are still ways to get compressed files onto an Android device: you can download them from websites — including webmail accounts like browser-based Gmail — or load them up via SD card or sync. The inability to pull them from an email, however, would seem rather unfair from the perspective of someone who believes that you should have full reign over the products that you own. What do you think, is this restriction an appropriate way to fight malware, or does it overstep the boundaries of how a company can control the way we use our devices?

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