So you've heard about how South Korea is going to make its own, possibly Android-based open-source smartphone OS, and how China's Baidu search engine is planning an Android fork. It's true; the inevitable forking of Android is starting in earnest, as company after company (and possibly the occasional government) takes Google's open-source programming code and runs with it. And since the vast majority of Android's code is licensed under permissive, BSD-style licenses instead of the "copyleft" GPL, they don't even have to give anything back.
What you may not know is that there are forks of Android that already exist, and devices that have already been made that run them. Some of them aren't for sale yet, and some of them aren't for sale anymore. But others are thriving, and showing how using that open-source code makes building tech gadgets much easier.
Here are the three biggest Android forks so far:
China Mobile's OPhone
But it fizzled out sometime in 2010, as Sherman So explains in the Asia Times Online. Part of the problem? Since it was a fork, it didn't have Google apps or the Android Market, both of which are proprietary (not open-source) Google services. Instead, it had its own market, which China Mobile took "about half" of the revenue for. That probably explains why it only got up to 600 apps.
Worse? Since it was basically Android, but with "improvements," it was always a few months behind Google's version. In essence, OPhones were to Android smartphones the way Android tablets are to iPads; generic-brand competitors, with almost no apps and little to set them apart.
Here's a more successful Android fork. Instead of jumping through Google's hoops to make a certified tablet, Barnes and Noble just took the code to the "Froyo" version of Android and made it into a polished e-reading experience.
Besides being an e-reader, though, the Nook Color is also a multitouch tablet, half the size (and cost) of the iPad. It has its own app market, plus developer guidelines for porting traditional Android apps to it. And there are ways to turn it into a normal "Honeycomb" Android tablet, for enterprising do-it-yourselfers.
So you've heard about it, have you? If not, you may be in for a surprise when it comes out. Not too big of one, though, since it's basically Amazon's version of the Nook Color.
In Amazon's case, though, it's got a much bigger selection of books, movies, and music online, plus an Android "Appstore" that's off to a great start (even if it abuses developers).
What successful forks have in common
It may be too early to tell if Amazon's tablet will be successful. But what it and the Nook Color seem to have in common is that neither are "Android" tablets. Instead, they use the Android code under the hood, so to speak, and use it to create their own world-class experiences.
The Nook Color isn't another wanna-be iPad. It's a Nook Color. And Amazon's Kindle tablet will be a Kindle. Both are brand names in their own right ... not just cheaper versions of Apple's gadget. Or "Android+" (as the States-side port of China's OPhone was known).
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