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Google Android roundup: Why did JBQ leave AOSP?

Jon Gold | Aug. 12, 2013
Android news/rumors: The end of an era, plus giant robots annoyed as LG removes "optimus" title from latest release, Android's continued domination and why people think it's doomed, and a Moto X engineer hates back on critics.

The Android realm is not a physical place, else we would have seen flags flying at half-mast and heard announcements made over school loudspeakers — Jean-Baptiste Quéru, godfather of the Android Open Source Project and one of the most influential figures in the ongoing development of the platform, abruptly stepped down from his position as AOSP maintainer this week.

Though JBQ, as he's generally known, didn't give explicit reasons for the move, the clever people over at Android Police quickly connected the dots from some of his recent Twitter activity, which bemoaned legal interference in the AOSP release process. Specifically, Quéru's frustrations about being barred from releasing critical binaries for the new-model Nexus 7 tablet appear to have boiled over.

What's strongly implied by the Android Police analysis is that Qualcomm, which makes the chipset for the new Nexus 7, has been making it impossible to get fully open-source versions of the software to work properly, withholding code essential for hardware support.

In a subsequent Google+ post, Quéru more or less confirmed this.  

"Well, I see that people have figured out why I'm quitting AOSP," he wrote. "There's no point being the maintainer of an Operating System that can't boot to the home screen on its flagship device for lack of GPU support, especially when I'm getting the blame for something that I don't have authority to fix myself and that I had anticipated and escalated more than 6 months ahead."

The reaction from the community has been generalized dismay, with sorrowful posts highlighting JBQ's importance to AOSP and Android in general, as well as widespread rancor directed at Qualcomm.

AOSP's curiously bifurcated nature — the underlying OS is open-source, but Google can't distribute the fully open version for a given device unless the OEM gives permission to distribute its proprietary binaries — always makes this sort of issue a bit hazy and complex, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Quéru had every right to be upset. Given that anyone can simply grab the closed-source binaries from the device itself, refusing to give AOSP permission to distribute is puzzling, to say the least.

While the usual caveats about unconfirmed information apply — Quéru himself seems to have some legal obligations that prevent him from speaking explicitly on the subject — it certainly seems as though JBQ's exit should have been avoidable, and it's a shame that it wasn't. Android Authority says it's "unlikely" that he'll actually leave Google, but AOSP has nonetheless lost a father figure.

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Speaking of Qualcomm, their latest Snapdragon 800 is powering the just-announced LG G2, according to the many tech blogs that got an early hands-on with the device. In contrast to the recently released Moto X, the G2 is a much more traditional Android flagship — an outsized, feature-packed whopper of a phone, with as many megapixels, GB and GHz as can possibly be crammed into its considerable frame.

 

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