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25 March 2011, 09:59

Google says no Android Honeycomb source for now

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Locked up android Andy Rubin, VP of engineering at Google, who famously defined Android's openness as the ability to check out the source code, told Businessweek that Google would not be publicly releasing the source code for Android 3.0, known as 'Honeycomb', for the "foreseeable future. Honeycomb was released in February and is the version of Android that has been created specifically for tablet devices. Honeycomb is already in the hands of major device manufacturers such as HTC, Samsung, Motorola and Asus; Motorola has been shipping its Honeycomb-based Xoom tablet in the US since February.

Rubin says that because the company had to hit a particular schedule, it "made some design tradeoffs". Google ignored compatibility with smartphones which are already supported by Android 2.3 'Gingerbread', and focussed on devices with larger displays and more power consuming and powerful processors of the tablet market. Rubin said the company had "no idea if it will even work on phones". One of Google's worries with releasing the source code to Honeycomb is that it could not prevent third-party developers from putting it on phones where they could create "a really bad user experience".

But the move will also prevent, for example, Chinese manufacturers from releasing Honeycomb based tablets. The Chinese makers have already created tablets based on Android 2.x, despite Google saying that version of the operating system was not designed for tablets. By locking the Chinese makers out it would in turn allow the major device manufacturers to bring their devices to market without having to compete with low-cost imports; the Android tablet vendors are already competing with Apple's dominant iPad and iPad 2, BlackBerry is launching it's own Playbook tablet and HP has a WebOS based tablet on the way.

The lack of Honeycomb source code will raise questions about Android's openness. "Android is an open source project" says Rubin claiming the company's strategy has not changed. This isn't the first time that Google have held back the public release of Android source code which working with selected partners to bring a device to market. The only major component that Google bring into Android is Linux which is under a GPLv2 licence; Google can easily comply with the GPLv2 requirements for that by releasing only their modifications to the Linux kernel.

For the rest of Honeycomb though, Google has developed the code itself or it is under a permissive licence such as Apache or BSD. This allows the company to retain control of the code until it feels it is ready to be released. Rubin's comments suggest that this point may be tied to when a version is ready which runs on phones and tablets. Previous reports suggest that this would be a version with a later version number and the rumoured code name of "Ice Cream" or "Ice Cream Sandwhich", but Google's closed development roadmap means only Google know when that will be released.

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