Gillius's Programming

Open Platforms Require Respect

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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:

  1. The attitude as if there is some entitlement to enjoy S-Voice on every device. XDA's proclamation of "S-Voice ripped for the world to enjoy" and "all [the] goodies (get whatever you want)" reads to me like lions tearing apart a fresh kill into shreds than genuine interest in Android developments. After Samsung blocks it, XDA arrogantly describes it as a bug and praises the user: "rather than griping to Samsung about the problem, ithehappy took it upon himself to fix the problem" -- seriously?
  2. The fact that this is front page news on top-tier sites like xda-developers and Engadget without even a token mentioning of the legal and ethical issues. Engadget's tone is much better, though, but a front page posting with no commentary on the issues still condones the action.
  3. The fact that S-Voice is a network-based service, so users are causing load on their servers. So now users of this app are depriving legitimate users (by loading the servers) and Samsung's profits (by increasing server costs and eliminating the exclusiveness of the app).

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):

  1. Use a better tone, not talking as if S-Voice service use on any phone they want is an entitlement
  2. Taken Samsung's blocking of the service as a sign that Samsung doesn't allow it, and not make a post praising the cracked version. Some users commented that S-Voice is just a reskin of an older version of Vlingo. OK, so then why didn't XDA just point that out that there is a better app (Vlingo Virtual Assistant) with the same functionality that is free and legal to use, and actually works on many devices, unlike the S-Voice which requires ICS and many people reported problems with the cracked version.

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):

  1. S-Voice is free (or Vlingo is free, which is assumed as the base for S-Voice): First, it's not free, S3 users are going to pay somewhere around $800 (before subsidies), and this is included as part of it. MS Word isn't "free" even if Dell puts it on a new PC. Second, it doesn't matter if it's free, maybe they will make money from ads, or at the least, used as a competitive advantage. Third, users of S-Voice actually cost Samsung money to run the servers.
  2. S-Voice sucks anyway and no one cares: Samsung probably cares, and that's what's important if you care about continuing to mod their phones.
  3. This won't hurt sales/Samsung is making enough/etc.: Personally, I don't think that's an excuse, especially when you consider this is a network service. And Samsung might not feel that way, and still react negatively maybe by locking down/DRM/etc.
  4. XYZ hack was done in the past and ABC didn't care: I think the attitude was very different than for fun/educational purpose, and modifying an app to work around blocks is very different from something like copying a hardware driver from stock ABC ROM to a modified ROM to run on that exact same legally purchased ABC device.

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.

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