By Nathan L. Walls

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  • Encased/Raleigh
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  • Completed Snow Angel/Raleigh

Open hypocrisy

I generally like Google and a love a lot of its products. Actually, better stated, I love the services Google provides and the apps that can use those services. I love Apple products. I love competition. Theoretically, I should relish Google building their own phone and tablet OS ecosystem with Android.

Instead, Google is changing the rules of the game with Android, seemingly against the ethos it has tried to establish by claiming openness in defense of Apple’s closed ecosystem.

Despite opinion to the contrary, there is no hypocrisy in pointing out Google’s current behavior is very much against the spirit of what they talked about in 2010. No one has claimed the App Store is in any recognizable way open. It is a walled garden. You want open on iOS? Build a web app.

Why does John Gruber rail at Google for doing what Apple does, namely being hard-nosed, profit-driven capitalists? Because the image that Google cultivates and promotes is very different than how it actually behaves. Apple is transparently about being a profitable business with words that (substantially) match its actions. Google, not so much.

A number of folks believe there’s something very wrong about Apple transparently acting as a business working in the interest of its shareholders (Disclosure: I own a small number of AAPL shares). How is there not dissonance when at the annual Google I/O conference, Vic Gundotra takes Apple to task for the same sort of behavior Google ends up engaging in? Google is strong-arming handset makers on how they implement Android.

It is completely dissonant to Andy Rubin’s “definition of open” when Google isn’t releasing Android 3.0 source until some point in time that is not the present. Oh, and Rubin gets to approve what handset makers do to customize Android. Maybe 140 characters can’t convey that level of nuance.

Moving to keep Android cohesive is a smart, if belated, move and I like Google’s chances of good UI better than a handset vendor. Google will at least A/B test the hell out of their interface.

If Google sought to different Android from iOS by allowing users the freedom to side-load apps, tinker under the hood, use Flash, have a variety of form factors, have more carrier choice, offer GSM unlocked phones and so on, great. But that’s not how they’ve set themselves up with Android. Instead they tried to claim the mantle of true Open Source Software, fighting the good fight against The Man.

I’m not arguing that what Google is doing to more aggressively curate Android is bad business. It boils down to this. Google’s creed is “Don’t be evil.” It very much wants people to see it as a different kind of company. But, it’s actively harmful when the words and actual behavior are in very significant conflict.