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Why blaming Google is the easy way out.

I am not sure how many of you listen to the Android Guys Thursday Night Droid-cast, but if you were not listening last night, grab listen over here. Steve Kondik, aka Cyanogen, was on the show last night, and immediately before the show was addressing an article written by Nilay Patel of Engadget. Nilay called into the cast, and the conversation that followed was pretty intense. I highly recommend the listen. Unfortunately, Nilay was not really in the mood to hear anyone but himself talk, so rather than give my piece of mind during the cast, I am going to address him here.

The basic argument is that Google should be doing more to force hardware manufacturers and carriers to perpetuate their statement of openness. This realization was made after the rocket scientist took a review unit from Motorola, the Droid X, and bricked his phone after trying to flash back to 2.1 in order to get the real 2.2 update. Nilay was all about pointing fingers in his article. He blamed Moto for not paying engineers to make a separate update to bring the people who took it upon themselves an engineers copy of 2.2, which was incomplete, to the legit copy of 2.2. He blamed Moto for not having software available to modders which will reset the phone back to stock, after messing with the device. Finally, he blamed Google, for not forcing their hardware partners to adhere to a set of standards that would allow the same level of modding seen on Google’s Dev phones, removing market access to any that fail to comply.

Let’s start the party. Hardware manufacturers, like most companies, have a goal in life. That goal, for the most part, is to make money. It’s weird, I know. It turns out that most people are not like Nilay Patel. Most people will not scour XDA for all the information they can find about making their phones do some awesome. It turns out, most people will read half of one page, download an installer, and start pressing buttons. The end result in that case is usually not good. So here you sit, with a bricked phone. You aren’t like Nilay Patel, where you have a few phones given to you for free by manufacturers. This is your only phone, and you paid that $200 for the subsidy. So you take a second look at that page and realize you skipped a step or two… but you gotta have a phone. So what do you do? Obviously you take the phone back into your carrier and tell them that you have no idea how this happened, but you need to use that insurance to get a replacement phone. Who did that just cost? Did Google just pay for that? Oh, right, it’s the carriers and the manufacturers.¬†Now, I’m not siding with the manufacturers. I think they do some messed up things to “secure” their devices. What I am saying, however, is that when you cost the carriers and manufacturers money by messing with their phones, they will respond by trying to limit their cost. If you take it upon yourself to install a rom that has comments all over it saying that certain things do not work, and you already know that Moto has no plans to encourage you to flash this rom, you had better know what you are doing.

Now, blaming Google? That’s just pathetic. Google makes the Android OS, and releases AOSP for anyone who wants to mess with it, and make it their own. Google is in no way responsible for the devices manufacturers use to load software, as it’s completely unrelated to the operating system itself. Now, Nilay’s counter argument was to bring up Archos. Archos, and many other devices, run Android, but have not been certified for the Market. Nilay continues to complain that Google has no standards for what it takes in order to certify a device. Combined with the empty statement about SkyHook, empty because no one knows what is going on with that situation yet, it was clear that he was just grasping at straws after Steve started to argue back. Google’s standards are not published anywhere, this is true, and they probably should be. However, my contact with Samsung assured me that there is, in fact, a set of software tests that every device sent to Google for consideration.

The bottom line is there are things that have to be put in place in order to ensure the average users can still use the phone, and the slightly above average users aren’t swapping phones every other day after bricking them. Now, I do have my issues the warrantee being affected by rooting the device, and had Nilay brought that up I would have agreed, but it’s pretty hard to blame anyone but yourself when you install something that starts with:

#include <std_disclaimer.h>
/*
 * Your warranty is now void.
 *
 * I am not responsible for bricked devices, dead SD cards,
 * thermonuclear war, or you getting fired because the alarm app failed. Please
 * do some research if you have any concerns about features included in this ROM
 * before flashing it! YOU are choosing to make these modifications, and if
 * you point the finger at me for messing up your device, I will laugh at you.
 */

39 Comments

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  1. I agree with him. Google should regulate the OS better. Requiring a set of tools to be published, and allowing the operating system to be open. I hate Motorola because their company is filled with a group of monkeys that think to fix something beat on it with a hammer. I hate having to root my open operating system because some idiot manufacturing company thinks users are going to enjoy their phone, and possibly take off their modified POS version of Android!

  2. That is so not true. As of Android 2.2, you have cloud backup of all your apps, settings, data, phone numbers, calendar entries. The only thing not being backed up is your SD card, but I guess usually your SD card does not die with your phone. So it’s even better than the iPhone restore process – you don’t need to connect it to a PC. So there you have it – easy, reliable, secure backup, built into the OS.

    As of Nilay’s article – it’s total BS. Hey man, you just installed an unofficial version of the OS. Which means that your warranty is, basically, void. Which would then imply that neither Google, nor the phone manufacturer has any obligation whatsoever to support your device. So, guess what – they are not expected to provide you with images, because, well you are not expected to be running anything except for the official 2.1 firmware. And you have the factory reset option to reset the settings to default. So… you wanna play hacker and modder, but then, when things get rough, you want an easy escape route. Doesn’t work like that. You’re either in, or you’re out.

  3. There’s a reason Google chose an Apache license for AOSP and not something like GPL. They want people to be able to do whatever with their code and successfully bootstrap an ecosystem for their online services and advertisements. Whatever Nilay wants Google to do is directly antithetical to their intent. For an example probably unintended usage of Android, see http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE66K1NE20100721 what Raytheon is doing with it.

  4. Wow, for all the hating on Engadget and Nilay in here, I’m surprised that most of you missed Nilay’s main point. I think what he was trying to say is that Google shouldn’t be able to passively condone hacking and take advantage of the strong Android community, but still turn it’s back on them by permitting manufacturers to lock down the phones. I do realize the manufacturers and/or the carriers are out the money lost due to hacking, but they should know that they are profitting from an OS that is designed to be “open.” If the manufacturer doesn’t like that, then sell a phone with Symbian on it, or any other crappy proprietary OS that would have a much weaker hacking community..

  5. I agree. Lost a lot of respect for Engadget, especially since they’re deciding to justify it rather than backtrack. No big deal; it’s not like they have a lot of exclusives on their site. There are plenty of other tech blogs out there.

  6. Every Android phone has a recovery image built on the device. Further, if you bork your stock phone you can go to the vendor and have it reset. I don’t see what the issue is.

  7. And who makes that restore image for the pc. The manufacture and if you dont have one you make one. Microsoft does not dictate to Vendors to make a restore cd. Nor do they make one for them as well. So why should google.

  8. Well ok yes… and linux does indeed void warrenty in most cases but the manufacturer also provides a restor disc. That is what moto should do too.. very much a moto flaw and I guess back to the originall debate I don’t think it would not be crazy for google to require that from manufacturers for them to use google apps and have google branding

  9. Actually, if you just consider rooting to be replacing the OS with a different OS on the phone, without using it to hack the hardware itself, Stsh0502’s point stands.

    Perhaps on the SD card manufacturers could include the OS they ship the phone with, just like if I went and bought a Dell machine, there would likely be a partition solely used for recovery.

  10. I didn’t say a car was like a computer. Maybe try reading what I wrote again. I said that computer manufacturers will void your warranty if you start making the machine do what it was not intended to do (overclocking, replacing parts, changing voltage, a whole multitude of things). If you have an OC’ed video board and 8 hard drives you added and all that, and your power supply burns up, why should the manufacturer help you out? The warranty covers what’s there, not what isn’t. Yes you CAN install Linux and that shouldn’t void your warranty, but don’t be surprised if a manufacturer gives you the finger for that anyway.

  11. Yeah and when somebody crashes a Porsche, it is their fault because they make cars that can go very fast. The driver has absolutely nothing to do with it. Self-responsibility? Not needed any more in a world of microwave manuals that tell you not do use it to dry your cat. Something like that must be this guys logic. A sad day for engadget.

  12. Completely agreed about iTunes – hence my disclaimer about ignoring it except for its usability in backup/restore of a phone. Completely agree about the OTA updates too – absolutely a tremendously better way to not have to be tethered to a computer for a huge update.

    But all everyone is saying so far is “Blame the manufacturer.” No one has addressed the fact that a centralized, built-in backup and recovery mechanism is missing from the platform, and it has to hurt, especially the former Apple koolaid drinkers who are converted and don’t _understand_ why they can’t just do the same thing. Like it or not, the bar is set where it is, and to ignore it does nothing for the penetration of the platform to the marketspace.

  13. just one thing, a phone isn’t like a car its like a computer… so u put linux on it, all u need to do is put in a restore disc and magically ur back to the way u bought it… just wanted to point that out

  14. I love Engadget, and read it daily. But I lost a lot of respect for the site, and for Nilay in particular after that post. Making mistakes while hacking your phone is common, I’ve done it several times. But that’s the reason it’s called hacking…you’re doing something you’re not supposed to do, and you obviously assume all the risks. To point the finger at everyone else for your mistakes is unprofessional.

  15. wait wait wait if the carriers and manufacturers were worried about people returning bricked phones for replacements than they wouldn’t have made them so easy to brick in the first place….(other reasons o maybe like free tethering). the manufacturers and especially carriers F it all up, i’m with everyone there, but common if google was really 100% on are side there are things they could do but instead google just steps aside and says “whatever as long as it works and people use google services.” google puts there brand name on all these phone therefore google has to take at least some responabilty for all these phones.

  16. Seems to me that this is case of someone making the assumption that he knew more than he did about modding his phone and refuses to take the blame for his own inability to properly understand the modding process for his phone. So instead of having the personal integrity to admit his wrongs he blames everyone else. Kind of sad.

  17. Point to be made – why is it that the hardware manufacturers should be on the hook for the end-user experience? This is the same argument that people for stock android vs sense / blur make. I make the point that the platform and thus the end-users benefit when there is more standardization of basic functionality such as the UI. I would add backup and restore to that.

    Let’s segue this to a topic most geeks relate to more directly – PCs. Imagine every manufacturer having a different BIOS, and thus their own personalized version of Windows for their bootloader. Imagine now never having the ABILITY to get a restore CD or restore image shipped with the device.

    Why do we tolerate this on a handset when we would never tolerate it on a laptop or desktop?

  18. How hard is it to pay attention to to flash instructions and also understand the consequences of rooting and flashing your handset? I mean to jump in without doing proper research into the process itself seems careless. Then to go blame someone else for your mistakes shows a lack of accountability and personal integrity. Like Russell mentioned you can’t blame the manufacturer and carriers for wanting to implement standards that will protect themselves from huge losses due to user error when modding. If you decide to mod your phone and it gets bricked you have no one to blame but yourself.

    It took me more than a month of proper research to decide whether or not I was going to mod my Evo. I did that because I wanted all the information before making a decision that could leave me with a paperweight. If you’re unsure of the process, DON’T DO IT. Ask questions and do the research. There are more than enough people on the forums who are more than happy to help you with questions and additional help.

  19. Perhaps Engadget needs to come up with a stringent substance abuse policy. Drunk people shouldn’t be flashing phones. Can Nilay name a software company or hardware maker that allows people to use unofficial builds on devices? Can’t think of one. His whole rant is totally chalked full of FAIL. Engadget should require sobriety and common sense before someone write’s a ridonkulously flawed rant?

  20. Schuyler Bishop, if I had my way iTunes would burn in hell. It’s the worst piece of software installed on my machine, but Apple force me to have it to update the wifes iPhone.
    Instead with Android I get updates OTA, these are never 350mb+ and if I’m impatient I can alway find someone who has the update.zip and manually install it myself via SD card.
    With my Amon recovery I’ve got safe backups of my phone in case one day I brick it, and I’m happy in the knowledge that if it does turn in to a brick it’s my fault and my problem.

  21. I think you are missing the point. Apple provides the hardware and software and only supports a handful of THEIR OWN devices. Google provides an OS which manufactures modify to suit their hardware, Google can’t be expected to be able to support an ever growing list of hardware which it had nothing to do with.

    Google is not failing its users it is up to the hardware manufactures to provide restoration, not Google. If your phone does die through natural means then you can return it to your carrier.

  22. I think you are missing the point. Apple provides the hardware and software and only supports a handful of THEIR OWN devices. Google provides an OS which manufactures modify to suit their hardware, Google can’t be expected to be able to support an ever growing list of hardware which it had nothing to do with.

    Google is not failing its users it is up to the hardware manufactures to provide restoration, not Google. If your phone does die through natural means then you can return it to your carrier.

  23. I’ll do you one better, sir. I don’t need a computer, and I sure don’t need iTunes to get my backup. I an use any phone, and my email address. Google holds my contacts, my applications, and my data. When I login to another phone after mine gets run over, I get my phone back. It works well, and works anywhere.

  24. I agree with this article and Cyanogen completely. The only thing I would like to see Google working harder at is getting Dev Phones release on every major US carrier. Android is going on 2 years and there still hasn’t been one Dev Phone for CDMA carriers. I know it’s not Google’s fault, and GSM is the world-wide standard, but it sure would have been nice if they could have pushed harder to get the Nexus One released for Sprint and Verizon as originally planned.

    Besides the lack of a CDMA Dev Phone, there’s also a problem of CDMA phone that run stock Android. Today, there is still only one CDMA phone that runs stock Android (the original Moto Droid). I think that’s sad. Google made this great OS, but it’s openness and it’s desire to just see Android everywhere no matter what the cost seems like it hurts Google more than any one manufacture or carrier. I left Android and went back to Blackberry because I couldn’t stand UI overlays, and, because I’m under contract with a CDMA carrier, I don’t have any other choice.

    It’s a tough situation, and I agree it’s not Google’s fault, but I would like to see Google doing more to Dev Phones or stock Android devices out to the masses. Yes, even to those of us stuck on CDMA carriers.

  25. Nilay’s whole post reeks of shitassery. Hardware manufacturers protect themselves by voiding said warranty when you do something that violates what they originally intended. All companies do this.

    Let me repeat this. All companies do this.

    Cars, appliances, computers, phones, cell phones, misc electronics. Every single company has warranty restrictions. Was he so blind not to notice this.. AT ALL?

    When you take something you’ve purchased, and make it do something beyond what the manufacturer has intended, they are no longer required to support it. And that’s the way it should be.

    You buy a phone and you flash it. You install an overdclock kernel and keep it maxed out, and it burns out. You don’t blame Google if it’s an Android device. You don’t blame Microsoft if it’s a Windows Mobile device. They did not make the hardware, HTC did, Motorola did, etc. Even then, the hardware manufacturer can’t be blamed. You made the hardware do something aside from its original intention, and you were expressly warned. Your fault.

    You go out and buy a brand new Honda Civic. Not happy with its power, you buy a Vortech Supercharger, and have a professional shop install it. The cars engine blows up. Do you think Honda won’t laugh your ass out of the dealer? Again, you expressly modified the hardware (in this case, a car) to do something it was not original intended to do, and was laid out before you in your warranty plan.

    These situations are the same. But in the case of Nilay, he didn’t bother to brush up on Android modifications BEFORE he flashed. Everyone is told, time and time again on XDA (whether they listen or not) to install Amon-Ra or Clockwork, and BACK YOUR SHIT UP. Again, if you choose to ignore this, the ROM authors don’t want to hear your whining.

    Bottom line, Nilay leaped without looking, and all of a sudden thinks Google and Moto owe him something. If you don’t agree with the risk, or the policy of rooting; don’t be stupid enough to do it, fuck it up, and cry about it later.

    Engadget has done so far downhill it’s pathetic.

  26. I think you and cyanogen are missing the point. The point is simple – Apple has set the standard for the way you deal with backups and restores of a smartphone, and their process, regardless of what you think of the company, their hardware or their walled garden, WORKS and works WELL. Show me any similar process made by Google to allow an Android-toting person to do the same.

    The fact of the matter is that when I had an iPhone, and it broke, all I had to do was get a new one, attach it to my computer and wait a while as iTunes (again, regardless of what you think of their program) did its magic. When finished my phone, apps, everything was right back to where it was the moment I sync’ed my old phone to it.

    And until Google has a similar process, it’s failing us the user. Not because I’m a modder, or a hacker or will even consider installing a non-released image on my device but because as an end-user I expect this.

    The fact that the process lends credibility to Nilay’s comments is immaterial. I friggin want an easy reliable secure backup built into the OS because phones die.

  27. I am tempted to remove Engadget from my RSS reader because of Nilay Patel. It seems they will let anyone write bunk articles these days. :/

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