Google: Acer Can’t Work On “Non-Compatible Android” & Be Part Of Open Handset Alliance

This week, Acer abruptly pulled out of a news conference about it produce a smartphone using the Aliyun mobile operating system. Alibaba, which makes Aliyun, said Google pressured Acer to drop out. Now Google is sharing its story. Acer pulled out because by being a member of the Open Handset Alliance, it had to.

Here’s the Google statement we were sent:

Compatibility is at the heart of the Android ecosystem and ensures a consistent experience for developers, manufacturers and consumers.

Non-compatible versions of Android, like Aliyun, weaken the ecosystem. All members of the Open Handset Alliance have committed to building one Android platform and to not ship non-compatible Android devices.

This does not however, keep OHA members from participating in competing ecosystems.

The OHA & One True Android Platform

The Open Handset Alliance was created with Google’s backing in 2007, as part of the Android OS launch itself. The alliance included a wide-range of companies ranging from carriers like T-Mobile to handset-makers like Samsung.

Acer joined the OHA in 2009. In fact, there have been so few companies joining (or at least announced) recently that the news release of Acer becoming part of the OHA is still listed on the OHA’s home page:

As you can see from the home page, all OHA members are pledged to support the “Android Platform.” But when Android is open source, when Google itself is even proud to talk about how it doesn’t know all the Android products that are out there, how can Google say that Acer isn’t supporting Android?

“Compatible” Android

That’s where the whole “compatible” part comes in. You see, there are two Androids in the world, those that are deemed compatible (and have access to the Google Play app and content store) and those that aren’t.

The Samsung Galaxy S III? That’s a compatible Android device (and these devices are counted in the activation totals that Google cites, such as 500 million that it says have been activated so far).

Amazon’s Kindle Fire? That’s not compatible Android (sometimes called “forked” Android). It doesn’t have access to Google Play (which is probably fine with Amazon, since it would rather people buy content for its devices through its own app store and Amazon itself).

Acer Goes Rogue

Apparently, given the statement above, OHA members are pledged to work only on compatible Android devices. That’s where Acer comes in. It was set to announce producing a phone using Aliyun, which is a non-compatible or forked version of Android backed by Alibaba. Then it dropped out yesterday.

Alibaba posted the news on its corporate blog, saying that Google threatened to cancel Acer’s Android “license” to use Android:

A Sept. 13  news conference announcing the China launch of a high-end Acer smartphone running a cloud operating system made by Alibaba Group was abruptly canceled after Google, owner of the Android OS, threatened to cancel Acer’s license to use Android for its other phones if the launch went ahead.

I found that statement confusing. Because Android is open source, no one is “licensed” to use it. Anyone can do anything with it just as both Amazon and Alibaba have. But only products that are deemed Android compatible are allowed to use the Android logo, as well as have access to the Google Play market.

Instead, it seems likely that Acer was set to work on this new device and got a reminder from Google that doing so meant it wouldn’t be an OHA member. In turn, OHA members are (to my knowledge) able to have faster access to new versions of Android code, along with likely other perks. Acer probably decided it wasn’t worth risking all that.

We’re working to see if we can get an Acer comment. So far, the company hasn’t seemed to say much. Here what the Wall Street Journal had yesterday:

 ”Acer will continue to communicate with Google and the company still wants to launch the new smartphone based on Alibaba’s software,” the Acer official said.

OHA Members Can Work With Android Competitors, Just Not Competitors Built On Android

Going back to the Google statement, an interesting twist was this part:

This does not however, keep OHA members from participating in competing ecosystems

By saying “competing ecosystems,” Google is talking about non-Android based mobile operating systems such as iOS or Windows Phone. It’s pretty ironic. You can participate in any competing operating system you want as an OHA member unless it’s a competing system to “compatible Android” that’s based on Android source code.

If that’s making your head hurt, consider this. Yesterday, when Google came under (false) accusations that it forced Android devices to use Google search, a Google spokesperson countered that this wasn’t true, with the primary example being the Kindle Fire, which uses Bing for search.

But the Kindle Fire isn’t part of the “one Android platform” that Google’s statement talks about. It’s “non-compatible” Android, so it doesn’t count (but other compatible Android devices have and do use Bing search).

Will The Real Android Please Stand Up?

I’ve written non-compatible devices like the Nook or the Kindle Fire shouldn’t even be called Android. That feels more important than ever before. Google uses “Android” interchangeably to mean compatible devices and non-compatible ones (or the “forked” or “ASOP Android,” for Android Open Source Project, because we need yet more confusion with names).

Android = Google

Ideally, I’d like to see Google simply call compatible Android either “Google Android” or “Google OS,” because it really is all about Google.

When the name of Android Market changed to Google Play earlier this year, that solidified compatible Android as effectively being a Google OS, not an open operating system. After all, what Google competitor really wants to have an application and content marketplace that’s all about Google’s branding, rather than its own?

Android Open Source Project Isn’t Android

As for the Android Open Source Project, it needs a new non-Android name. After all, if devices can be built off that code but can’t necessarily use the Android logo, why continue with this confusion of some (including those at Google) referring to them as Android? Pick a new name.

By the way, if you’re wondering what makes something “compatible,” Google says it’s all down to passing a test suite (which you’ll find here).

The company has also written some blog posts about the whole compatibility debate in the past (see here and here), a debate that happens in part because it’s seen by some as a way Google turns an “open” operating system into one that does what it wants.

Postscript: Android chief Andy Rubin, on his Google+ page, is now mentioning the Acer situation:

We were surprised to read Alibaba Group’s chief strategy officer Zeng Ming’s quote “We want to be the Android of China” when in fact the Aliyun OS incorporates the Android runtime and was apparently derived from Android.

Based on our analysis of the apps available at, the platform tries to, but does not succeed in being compatible.

It’s easy to be Android compatible, the OHA supplies all the tools and details on how to do it.  Check out this blog post that explains how we think about compatibility and how it relates to the ecosystem we worked hard to build.

He points to this Google blog post talking about the “importance of compatibility” in Android, which says nothing about Acer but obviously went up as a defense over questions the case will raise.

It remains unclear exactly how Google called Acer to task, but it seems pretty clear it did — and it marks the first time I know of that an OHA member has actually been called to account in this way.

Postscript 2: I’ve written a follow-up piece that takes a bigger picture look at the confusion about about having an “open” and not-so-open branches of Android. You’ll find it here: What Is The One True Android & How “Open” Is It?

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Android | Google: Business Issues | Top News


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Dare Obasanjo

    It seems like just this morning Danny was arguing that it is false to say Google tells Android OEMs what default search engines are acceptable. Now we hear Google can even dictate what OS is acceptable to ship on their handsets.

    I’m confused Danny. Can you help me out here?

  • Watts

    I can help you out. Those are two different statements that are true or false independently of one another. See:

    Google tells Android OEMs what default search engines are acceptable: false

    Google tells OHA members that they can’t ship non-Google Android handsets: true

    There, wasn’t that simple?

  • Mishichan Twochann

    Seems Closed Handset Alliance

  • fransfebri

    I think OEMs can have phones with Android and Aliyun, but if they want to have a true Android phone (with Google ecosystem), they can’t make another phone that is compatible with Android.
    I think it’s only fair if Acer insisted on making phone with Aliyun, they should leave the OHA and not making phone with Google ecosystem.
    Why people have a hard time understanding this, I don’t know.
    Without joining OHA, they can still make an Android AOSP phone just without GApps.

  • Danny Sullivan

    I sure can, Dare. Microsoft’s chief economist said this:

    “Microsoft tried to make deals to become the default search engine on mobile devices. On Android, that was rendered impossible. They were told, Android makers, and carriers, were told, that you cannot use another default besides Google”

    I wrote a post explaining why this was false. I know you read it. Part of the post, in fact, explained how she herself recanted that statement after making it, but only after a Google spokesperson called her out on it.

    So it wasn’t just me saying it was false. It was your own chief economic officer saying so. Is that clear enough? Perhaps it’s not clear because Microsoft-backed FairSearch hasn’t updated its own post with that claim on it?

    Nothing with the Acer action an OHA changes this. I’ve yet to hear anything from Microsoft or Google to say that the only way you can be deemed Android compatible is to have Google search.

    I can also see that right now, Verizon is selling the Casio G’zOne Commando, an Android-based phone (but without Android branding) that uses Bing as the default search and which has access to Google Play (so it is apparently deemed Android-compatible).

    You aren’t confused. You’re concerned that Google might use its leverage over Android to its own gains. I share those concerns, just as I can have similar concerns over what Apple might do with its own platform and what Microsoft does with its own platform.

    Those concerns should be voiced. I’ve raised them before, and I raised them in my post yesterday and in this post there. But the concerns shouldn’t go to Microsoft just making stuff up, as happened yesterday. You hardly need to do that to attack Google. When it happens, it just makes Microsoft look bad.

  • dilharo

    Andy Rubin originally shared this post:
    We were surprised to read Alibaba Group’s chief strategy officer Zeng Ming’s quote “We want to be the Android of China” when in fact the Aliyun OS incorporates the Android runtime and was apparently derived from Android.

    Based on our analysis of the apps available at, the platform tries to, but does not succeed in being compatible.

    It’s easy to be Android compatible, the OHA supplies all the tools and details on how to do it. Check out this blog post that explains how we think about compatibility and how it relates to the ecosystem we worked hard to build:

  • Bryce Etheridge

    To be clear it looks like the blue-grey typeface logo is off limits, but the little green droid is creative commons, and using the Android brand name in general is fairly permissible as long as you are not using the terms alone..


  • Uvindu Perera

    Well if you are making an Android competitor using Android’s code (i.e.
    Aliyun), it’s crazy to allow them things like early access to source code, tools etc. They can basically release Google’s new updates earlier than Google to the public can call it’s their innovation. So essentially if Acer wants to go with Aliyun, they should opt out of OHA.

  • Danny Sullivan

    I’m having a problem understanding what your problem is with the article.

    You seem to be suggesting it doesn’t make it clear that “open” Android isn’t necessarily open and that Google exercises a lot of control over it. If so, I thought that was pretty covered.

  • math notes

    thanks @wilhelm_reuch:disqus for your great comment

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