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Google holds back on open-sourcing Honeycomb, heralds massive shift for Android

Android Honeycomb
Google, in an interesting but not entirely unexpected twist, will not be open-sourcing Android 3.0 Honeycomb for the foreseeable future.

Historically, Android is usually open-sourced via the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) a few days or weeks after the code is finalized. While this departure from the norm won't affect OEMs like HTC and Motorola that have access to internal builds of Android, small-time developers will likely have to wait months before rolling their own distributions.

As to why Google is holding back Honeycomb, its reasons are actually rather rational. Honeycomb, while originally intended to run on all mobile form factors, is only ready for deployment on tablets. "To make our schedule to ship the tablet, we made some design tradeoffs," says Andy Rubin, the head of Google's Android group. "We didn't want to think about what it would take for the same software to run on phones. It would have required a lot of additional resources and extended our schedule beyond what we thought was reasonable. So we took a shortcut."

In other words, Google wants to prevent OEMs and homebrew developers like Cyanogen from rolling their own smartphone versions of Honeycomb -- it doesn't want to see the same bitter-tasting tabletified bastardization that occurred with Android 2.1 and 2.2 last year.

While Google says that it remains dedicated to the open source movement, there's no denying that Android has now turned the corner and has begun a slow shuffle away from developed-in-the-open projects like Firefox. It now becomes a question of whether this is just a one-off occurrence, or if Ice Cream will also be kept back 'until it's ready.'

To us, it sounds like Google has realized that Android's massive fragmentation and the dilution of a unified, understandable user experience is a bad thing. After all, when you advertise a device as an Android device, the user should have some idea of what they're getting into, and that simply isn't the case right now. Google's shift towards a more-closed system with Honeycomb could represent a shift to a much tighter and contiguous user experience across all Android devices.

There will probably be quite a few hoots and cheers from the iOS HQ in Cupertino when they read the news this morning.

Tags: android, android 3.0, android 3.0 honeycomb, android honeycomb, Android3.0, Android3.0Honeycomb, AndroidHoneycomb, AOSP, google, honeycomb, ice cream, IceCream, open source, open-source, OpenSource, osupdates, tablet