Open platforms require respect. Open platforms provide freedom and with freedom comes the responsibility to not abuse that power. When that power is abused, respect is lost and then instead of a innovative collaboration between OEM and community, it becomes more like a battle, as with iOS. Do we really want to encourage OEMs to take Android down the path of locked down OS builds, underground modding, paying for the privilege just to make an app subject to arbitrary rules and delays from a app store resulting from a forced monopoly?
I believe that a few recent posts by xda-developers and Engadget crossed that line of respect. Recently, a leaked firmware for the new Samsung Galaxy S3 became available online. Shortly after, an XDA user ripped all of the proprietary apps off the image, including S-Voice, a direct competetor to Apple's Siri, and posted them in a thread called S-Voice and ALL I9300 goodies (Get whatever you want). This was then highlighted as front page news "Samsung S Voice Ripped for the World to Enjoy", and covered on Engadget. Samsung then blocks clients not on S3 with a simple check of the phone's model name, something trivial to workaround technically but a clear sign (in my opinion) that Samsung did not want this happening. Shortly afterwards, a cracked copy surfaces that sends S3's model code regardless where it is installed, "fixing" the issue. XDA praises this achievement again on the front page as S Voice Back Again, the XDA Way. People rip apps/ROMs/proprietary functionality all the time, but some aspects of this particularly bothered me:
A lot of this is facilitated by Android being an open platform. But attitudes and actions like this will harm Open Source and freedom to tinker with the devices we own. If this is how the developer community treats the OEMs, we could see more actions like locking down root access, locked bootloaders, encrypted OS images, proprietary extensions to Android to prevent app cross-compatibility, and hardware-enforced DRM. This really impacts the great work of people working on AOSP ROMs like Cyanogenmod, that depend on Open Source code and ability to get hardware access to flash images and provide users with support long after the OEM has abandoned them. In this case, the community took advantage of the open platform's ability to easily get a package installable on all devices.
What XDA should have done (other than not allowing the thread at all):
I voiced my concerns in the XDA comments and forums, and the arguments against my position essentially fall to one of these groups (I think the legal issue is clear -- it's wrong -- so I comment only on the ethics/respect issues):
Open platforms require respect. If people just take whatever they want, whenever they want, for whatever reason they want, there is no reason for Google or Samsung or anyone else for that matter to continue allowing a legitimate, open path to innovation and development. So I ask the XDA community, especially those that say it's just a "crappy reskin" of Vlingo, is a cracked S-Voice really worth risking Android OEMs to feel forced to take more steps away from open hardware and development? We request that OEMs respect our right to modify/develop our purchased devices, and we should respect their rights as well.