Is There Any Future in the Open Handset Alliance?

Is There Any Future in the Open Handset Alliance?
Page content

Where It All Began

The founder’s of the Open Handset Alliance decided a change was in order on Planet Mobile, in order to get new handsets out more quickly. They thought that getting new gadgets out in a more timely fashion would be helped by using one open platform, and so the idea for Google’s Android was born.

You obviously need more than a brilliant operating system to create the perfect phone though, which is why various areas of the mobile world joined together to create the Open Handset Alliance.

What’s the Big Idea?

The Open Handset Alliance was designed to bring together various different areas of the mobile community who were interested in accelerating mobile innovations to offer consumers a better, richer, and less expensive experience. A meeting of minds coming together to create one big monster, if you will. Together these companies were responsible for shaping Android; widely touted as a complete and open platform for mobiles, meaning the end user has more control.

At the last count there were 82 members of the Open Handset Alliance, and these are taken from all walks of the mobile life. You’ll find:

  • Mobile Operators such as Sprint Nextel and Telefonica.
  • Handset Manufacturers such as HTC, Samsung and Motorola.
  • Semiconductor companies like Intel and Qualcomm.
  • Software companies like eBay and Google (no surprise).
  • Commercialization companies such as Intrinsyc and Accenture.

There are some notable exceptions from this list though, including AT&T and Verizon.

Whatever Happened to the Alliance?

I think it’s fair to say that most mobile phone users, whether Android fans or not, are unlikely to have even heard of the Open Handset Alliance. To most of us, what the Alliance stands for has simply become Android. No longer does it need to be prefixed by Google, when we hear Android now we think smartphone not C3PO.

But does it really mean anything any longer? Isn’t the battle now won to a certain extent. Google Android has a significant share of the mobile phone market (around 36 percent), and is widely tipped to become the Top of the Pops in little over a year.

Many of the members in the Alliance now overlay their own UI onto the Android operating system anyway, such as HTC’s Sense, Samsung’s TouchWiz and Motorola’s MotoBlur. While it’s true to say some of these UIs aren’t as successful as others (Hello Moto), it does rather betray the united front of using one OS. While essentially the handsets of these manufacturer’s do all run Android, and I’d be just as at home using my friend’s HTC Desire as I would be playing around on my Galaxy S2, they are certainly different. Maybe that’s the point of Android after all though, as they promote it as being multilayered and to enable the user to have it “their way”. But where does that leave the Alliance?

Taking the same example of the manufacturer’s individual UI layers, it’s also interesting to note that most of these (notably the Sense UI), have been made without pushing the code back to the Alliance. One of the key points of the Open Source Project (an intrinsic part of the Alliance and what it stands for) is that code can be modified and then shared with others. So does being in the Alliance even mean anything?

Is the OHA About to Fold?

While on the face of it, the Open Handset Alliance is still going strong, having recruited a new member at the start of June 2011, it is


considered by some to now be more of an umbrella group that doesn’t actually work or promote anything together. While in 2007 the idea of an alliance was a good one, it now seems to be more of a shell, just being held up as one big force that can compete with the likes of Apple and RIM; the members of the alliance on their own would just be little fish.

When a website’s “What’s New” section has headlines from 2009, it’s hard to see how the Open Handset Alliance can put forth an argument that it’s current and everyone’s still working together toward a common goal.

Google’s Android and the Open Handset Alliance appear to be one and the same now; rather than facing the whole challenge of creating a mobile phone from start to finish, it has become all about the innovative operating system, despite its members being from all areas of the mobile industry. It seems that the Alliance is still in evidence under name only – after all if the Alliance were disbanding that would be like admitting defeat, which certainly isn’t on the cards. But it’s hard to see who is benefiting from continuing an organization that seems to mean less as time goes on, rather than gaining strength.


Image Credits: