Android and iOS, Google and Apple, open and closed. The differences seem almost black and white but what are they and why pick one or the other. The answer to this is not as black and white.
During the development of Apple’s iPhone, they decided to implement a closed (proprietary) source policy with software and hardware. This means that both the internal and physical workings of the iPhone are locked down and not available to anyone but the main developers to change. The argument in support of this approach generally revolves around the idea of a ‘gatekeeper’. By not allowing third party software developers access to the iPhone, apple can ensure the reliability of their product and maintain a pure use of the iPhone, where a user can only do what apple allows them to in order to avoid viruses and wasteful apps. The same goes for hardware, by locking the physical components of the iPhone, only approved equipment such as chargers and other devices can connect maintaining a sort of reliability.
The closed source approach comes at the cost of innovation and accessibility. By closing the system from change, third party developers are incapable of developing inspired, potentially groundbreaking apps to the apple market, and hardware developers are unable to extend the usability of the product beyond what apple allows users to do,as Tim Lee puts it “The store is an unnecessary bottleneck in the app development process that limits the functionality of iPhone applications and discourages developers from adopting the platform”. By forcing users to pick from a shorter list of approved equipment such as chargers and other components, prices for these components can be and in this case are much more expensive. If someone wants to switch from a non apple device to an iPhone, they would also need to get new equipment to accompany the iPhone which raises the cost of iPhones meaning some people are incapable of affording it.
Wide open Androids
Around the same time that Apple released it’s closed source iPhone to the world, Google formed what’s known as the Open handset alliance, 84 technology and mobile companies that have come together to develop an open source mobile operating system platform called Android. Android is built around a free and open policy that supports innovation and accessibility. It’s a mobile operating system platform, meaning it’s not a whole package in itself, instead it’s a base for anyone to build the exact operating system they want or need around it, this concept by itself solves most of the problems in a closed software environment. By allowing anyone to freely access and use the source for android, operating systems and apps can be created for any reason allowing for a far greater variety and chance for serious innovation in the field of mobile software. A cheap budget version of an android operating system can be developed for anyone who needs it and hardware in the open handset alliance is shared and so they all utilize a more universally accepted micro usb port, meaning no more extra costs if changing or upgrading your phone to a different android device.
“Those hoping for a new gadget to rival the iPhone finally understood that Google had something radically different in mind. Apple’s device was an end in itself — a self-contained, jewel-like masterpiece locked in a sleek protective shell. Android was a means, a seed intended to grow an entire new wireless family tree. Google was never in the hardware business. There would be no gPhone — instead, there would be hundreds of gPhones.” (Roth, D 2008)
Unfortunately having your system wide open for the world to access means viruses and malware can be easily developed and shared among devices. While that is a genuine concern for android users, there is also a plethora of anti malware apps to oppose this abuse of an open source system.
Should I Close This or Leave it Open
“The locked down offerings may be better initially due to a benevolent dictator — and the open solutions may be quite messy at first due to the design-by-committee nature of the crowd, but over time the crowd gets better (or, more accurately, those who are better within the crowd begin to shine and take over), while the benevolent dictator has trouble keeping up.” (Masnick, M 2010)
What Masnick is saying here is that when considering the benefits and downsides to open and closed source systems, the defensive aspects of the closed source system allow it to thrive initially but means it is incapable of growing beyond it’s self imposed walls whereas an open source system is prone to chaos and disorganization but through crowd sourcing and innovation is able to go beyond any existing thresholds in technology.