Google’s Problem with Acer and Alibaba? Aliyun OS is an Incompatible Version of Android

Sorry Acer, this isn’t about you anymore. Last week, there was a report out of China that Google had forced Acer to cancel the launch of its CloudMobile A800 smartphone running the cloud-based Aliyun OS, threatening to “terminate Android product cooperation and related technical authorization with Acer”. Whatever was happening behind the scenes, the situation definitely made Google look ugly.

Google didn’t have much to say about it at first, but Google’s Andy Rubin posted a note on his Google+ page yesterday that reveals something about the search giant’s perspective on things.

Andy RubinRubin (pictured) stated that although the Aliyun OS uses Android’s runtime and appears to have been derived from Android, it is not compatible with Android. That’s a problem because of Acer’s membership in the Open Handset Alliance, which Google founded to keep the already fragmented Android ecosystem from shattering into a thousand incompatible pieces.

Creating the OHA was a wise move by Google because, as Rubin details in a blog post, keeping a certain level of compatibility across an open platform like Android makes the whole venture profitable for devs and hardware makers and maintains a high-quality product for consumers. If they allow a variant to exist that has little to no compatibility with other version of Android, it would disrupt the “virtuous cycle” and weaken the platform.

That’s all well and good, but here’s the problem: Google believes that Aliyun OS is one of these hardly-compatible fragments, and Aliyun OS maker Alibaba believes it isn’t. Thus, we now have a battle of definitions with Acer caught in the middle.

Membership in the OHA doesn’t preclude a member from putting other platforms on its hardware, such as Windows Phone, so the issue is that (in Google’s view) Acer was trying to use an incompatible Android fork.

Aliyun OS
Image credit: Android Central

Acer hasn’t had much to say about the issue yet, but Alibaba’s vice president of international corporate affairs John Spelich told CNET that "Aliyun OS is not part of the Android ecosystem so of course Aliyun OS is not and does not have to be compatible with Android.” He went to say that Aliyun OS is built on Linux, eschews the Google Play store in favor of its own apps, and focuses on the cloud as opposed to the Android ecosystem.

In part, the rest of his message is as follows:

Aliyun is an open-source based OS that is also an open ecosystem that allows others to host their mobile-enabled Web sites in our cloud and we make those Web sites available to users who use Aliyun OS phones. So, we are an ecosystem that includes other Internet companies, whereas Android does not because it provides apps through downloads. It's the crux of the whole cloud vs. app debate. Cloud is open, apps system is closed because it is controlled by the operator of the apps marketplace.

Rubin responded to Spelich’s statement with this post on Google+

Hey John Spelich -- We agree that the Aliyun OS is not part of the Android ecosystem and you're under no requirement to be compatible.

However, the fact is, Aliyun uses the Android runtime, framework and tools. And your app store contains Android apps (including pirated Google apps). So there's really no disputing that Aliyun is based on the Android platform and takes advantage of all the hard work that's gone into that platform by the OHA.

So if you want to benefit from the Android ecosystem, then make the choice to be compatible. Its easy, free, and we'll even help you out. But if you don't want to be compatible, then don't expect help from OHA members that are all working to support and build a unified Android ecosystem.

It’s a little hard to parse out who’s wrong and who’s right here; it seems that both sides have a good point. However, Google and Alibaba are in some ways the Western and Eastern versions of each other, so they’re going to be fighting one another for market share in China, and one can’t help but wonder if Google is taking a shot across Alibaba’s bow with this shutdown of the Acer phone and sending a message to Acer (and other handset makers).

Then again, perhaps Alibaba and Acer left Google with no choice but to bring the hammer down. Still, handset makers looking to break into China’s enormous developing market may chafe at Google’s view of Alyin OS and will look to circumvent the issue.

Next stop: Court?