Android fragments vs. the iPhone monolith

If your ear is to the ground in the Apple rumorsphere, you'd know that iPhone developers are mad. They're sick of Apple's arbitrary rejections and stonewalling from the App Store. Several high-profile programmers have simply walked away from iPhone development, including Facebook's Joe Hewitt and beloved software developer Rogue Amoeba. So, where would they move on to? Android development seems the logical choice. The long buzzed-about OS has finally begun to see real marketplace traction; its high-powered phones can support the sort of advanced apps you see on the iPhone, but there's no tyrant controlling your programming freedom. It's a paradise, right?

Er. Well, it turns out that the Android platform is already rapidly fragmenting. Versions 1.5, 1.6, and 2.0 are already out in the market, and even handsets with the same version of the OS may have specialized ROMs that can cause an app that works great on one phone to completely flake out on another. In some ways, it's an example of exactly why Apple has no interest in licensing its mobile operating system; by keeping strict control over the hardware, they can make sure apps Just Work. The infuriating thing is that this can be used as an excuse for Apple's hypercontrol over App Store entries -- even though apps are almost always rejected for pointless legal reasons, not technical ones.

So, do smartphone developers only have a choice between dictatorship and anarchy? Adding to the mix is Michael Arrington's claim that Google is going to put out its own Google-branded Android handset early next year. John Gruber thinks this is nuts -- he points out that Google specifically said it wasn't going to do this only two weeks ago -- but if it is true, the question is, why? Perhaps Google feels that its own handset will by the sheer weight of Google's backing become a standard to which other manufacturers will have to conform. To this idea, I say: good luck. That's the problem with open: people can do what they want with it.

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