Trouble Ahead for Android?

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A few deep thoughts today about the world’s most popular OS… Not just the world’s most popular smartphone OS—if certain industry experts are to be believed then Android now enjoys a larger user base than even Windows on desktop PCs. Android may or may not have the top spot here in North America, but no one can deny its dominance worldwide.

And yet there are some troubling signs ahead, rumbling through the Android modding community right now and potentially affecting all Android users later. I’ll lay them out for you and see what you think.

1. Challenges for Chainfire

XDA recognized developer Chainfire is the author of SuperSU, the flashable zip that can make any Android device your own. A few weeks ago he posted some concerns to Google+; Android Police did a pretty good job of distilling the main issue:

In a commit appearing earlier today in AOSP, the SELinux implementation is set to remove a fairly important aspect for many root apps: the ability to write to the /system partition. The new policy strictly mounts /system as read-only in any context other than recovery, which is allowed write access for the purpose of applying OTA updates.

Without root access Android would be a lot less compelling for a lot of users, myself included.

2. No More Nexus

This is the infamous tweet that made Android modders everywhere question the future of their favourite hacker-friendly device. It  may or may not be true—there are apparently references to both a Nexus 6 and Nexus 8 in the Chromium Review Code—but multiple sources are reporting that Google is moving away from the Nexus program, replacing it with something called Android Silver.

Whether or not the Nexus line was ever successful in terms of sales is a bit irrelevant. For developers it’s been a reference design to test their apps on. For modders it’s been an easily-rootable device with a universe of available ROMs, Xposed Modules, etc. And for every user it’s been a SIM-free device—with the possible exception of the Sprint and Verizon versions you can use a Nexus with any SIM card, even if you buy it from your carrier on a subsidy.

The end of the Nexus would be a huge blow to Android, but not necessarily a fatal one.

3. Samsung and Tizen

What happens when the world’s number one phone-maker switches to a different OS? It’s too early to tell, but we may be seeing the first signs of this with Samsung and Tizen.

For Samsung, Tizen made it début on the Galaxy Gear 2 and Galaxy Gear Neo; since then the original Galaxy Gear has been updated to run Tizen as well. A few days ago Samsung’s first Tizen-powered smartphone was revealed, the Samsung Z. It’s launching later this year in Russia, where most users likely won’t notice any difference between it and the Android-powered Galaxy phones already on the market. Android Police jokingly posted that Android is clearly dead now—yuks aside, if Samsung fully commits to Tizen then implications for Android could be dire.

There could be trouble for modders too. Tizen, like Android is built on open-source software, but hardware, at least from Samsung, is becoming increasingly locked down.

So there you go, three concerns about the future of Android that have been coalescing in my head for the past few weeks. If any of this resonates with you—as crazy, dumb, legitimate or something else—please discuss.