Android openness questioned as webOS goes open-source

by Kristen Nicole

Late last week HP announced its plans for webOS, the platform it originally hoped would power its array of devices in an era clearly headed in the mobile direction. HP rescued webOS from complete shut down by making it an open platform, but it must first compete with Android, the dominant open source platform in today’s mobile arena. While HP will need to build up an ecosystem around apps, gaining developer and device support, the entrant of another open platform has raised questions on Android’s own openness.

Android struggled with its open-source status particularly in this past year, facing serious allegations from Oracle and Microsoft for its code use. Google also had to pacify a restless developer community when the release of Android 4.0 source code was repeatedly delayed. And the question of Android’s openness comes in many forms, from a proprietary standpoint to profit sharing, and mere access for developers. Android’s open platform has enabled the Kindle Fire to build its own marketplace around a mobile device, even losing a certain amount of control in the process. On the other end of the spectrum, GetJar CEO Iljas Laurs says Android is a closed platform because it doesn’t offer developers total freedom.

Controlling a mobile ecosystem

Some say Google will be pushed to impose more control over the Android ecosystem, from Market app approvals to revenue-sharing rates from profitable apps. Whatever the case, Android remains the top, open-source mobile platform on the market, forcing competitors to reconsider their own approach to building a profitable ecosystem. Microsoft, RIM and HP are all struggling to establish their mobile platforms, all of which will need their own ecosystem to survive. Even HP’s webOS could lose out to Microsoft, which at least has the XBox, Windows Server and other products to integrate with Windows Phone.

But Android continues to face problems maintaining its large, open platform. In Europe, premium SMS toll fraud is on the rise thanks to some craftily designed apps in the Android Market. This past week brought several waves of a new threat called RuFraud, disguised as horoscope apps with a sketchy ToS indicating charges, explains Lookout in a blog post over the weekend. Lookout alerted Google of the nine apps they identified, which Google promptly removed. Another dozen or so have reappeared in the Market, skinned as free versions of popular games such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, keeping Google, Lookout and end users on their toes.