Details on Google’s so-called “lead device concept” have emerged as part of the Oracle case evidence the search giant hoped to withhold, outlining a potential policy of granting early access to hardware partners that toe the line. “Give early access to the software to partners who build and distribute devices to our specification” the internal presentation FOSSPatents dug through suggests, under the section in which Google examines ways it can benefit from a freely-distributed OS. “Do not develop in the open” is another strategy, “instead, make source code available after innovation is complete.”
Google’s focus in the document is to “create policies that allow us to drive the standard.” Of the lead device strategy, vendors “get a non-contractual time to market advantage and in return they align to our standard.” The approach is likely to reignite complaints of preferential treatment from earlier this year, where manufacturers complained of “anti-fragmentation clauses” that limited what modifications – such as custom skins like Samsung’s TouchWiz – could be made to Android devices without Google penalizing them with a delay in the very latest code.
At the time, Android chief Andy Rubin denied any such policy was in place. “Our approach remains unchanged: there are no lock-downs or restrictions against customizing UIs” he claimed. “There are not, and never have been, any efforts to standardize the platform on any single chipset architecture.”
While that may be true – all vendors eventually get access to Android, and ostensibly only need to comply with certain core specifications if they want to use Google’s Gmail app (among others) along with offer the Android Market on their device – this certainly implies that, although the code will ultimately be published, there could well be an early window in which those manufacturers seen as “on side” with Google get a privileged preview. “Provide incentives” the presentation concludes, “carrots rather than sticks.”
The question now is how Google’s internal policies – or what those policies could be; the document outlines a strategy but it’s unclear whether Google actually adopted them – will mesh with the company’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility. Rubin has already said that, just because the device manufacturer will be a subsidiary of the search giant, that doesn’t mean it’s a lock-in for the Nexus program of Google-branded devices. However, that still leaves open the possibility of “time to market advantage” for Motorola’s regular product line, something that seems to have at least partially spooked Samsung.
Google has finally stepped up and delivered on its promise to “stand behind” HTC in its lawsuit against Apple, handing over certain patents that have allowed the manufacturer to better target the Cupertino company in the courts. However, while this may be intended as a sign of broader support for OEM partners all round, Google is still likely to face a challenge convincing Open Handset Alliance members – and indeed antitrust investigators – that the Motorola Mobility acquisition isn’t a dark cloud on their horizon.