Google’s Dan Morrill has confirmed that the company will be releasing the source code for Google Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The company is just waiting until it’s “available on devices,” which means that sometime after the Samsung Galaxy Nexus starts shipping in November we should see the source code released.
It used to go without saying that Google would release the source for each new version of Android. While the company tends to work on Android operating system updates behind closed doors unlike the developers behind many other open source projects, up until this year Google has always eventually released the code to the public.
That changed with the launch of Android 3.0 Honeycomb. Google decided that while the operating system played nicely with tablets, it wasn’t up to snuff for phones. So in an effort to prevent hardware makers from putting out subpar smartphones with Honeycomb, Google simply withheld the source code.
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwhich is designed to run on both phones and tablets, and it sounds like we should see the code released before the end of the year. That’s good news for smaller hardware makers. Big name companies have been able to work directly with Google to create tablets with Honeycomb software, but smaller vendors often don’t have that kind of relationship with Google and have to rely on open source code.
It’s also good news for independent developers working on custom ROMs for Android devices based on the AOSP (Android Open Source Project). While some developers have created custom firmware based on the Honeycomb emulator images released in the Android Software Development Kit, there’s a lot more you can do when you have access to the full source.
The popular CyanogenMod Android distribution, for instance, is based on AOSP code — and so while CyanogenMod has been updated recently with some “tablet tweaks” that allow the operating system to play better with tablets, it’s still based on Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread because that’s the last version of Android to be open sourced. After Ice Cream Sandwich goes open source, the CyanogenMod team and other developers will be able to start working on Android 4.0 custom ROMs.