Systems Theory: The Android OS

Android’s Open System vs. Apple’s Closed System… who will win?

A systems approach to development empahisizes the difference between a disconnected set of parts and a collection of parts that work together to create a functional whole (Eisenberg, 79).

Take for example Google’s Android mobile operating system for smart phones which is considered an open system for smartphone users. Google decided to give everyone an opportunity to write code for their operating system and apps features. This lead to the development of some interesting programs including street scape and a 360 degree panoramic picture taking app. These user generated contents allow for the Android OS to flourish in the marketplace. Unlike the infamous closed system of Apple’s IOS customers can personalize their user experience.

In alliance with Weick’s concept of sensemaking, Google has created “structure to the unknown” within their Android OS (Weick, 4). Google created the open source project, a web site dedicated to defining how users can create content for their Android smart phone. In this instance Google is trying to set a precedence in both individual and social activity within their operating system by allowing users to interact with one another to address how text (in this case code) is constructed as well as how it is read. “Sensemaking is about authoring as well as reading” (Weick, 6-8). Meaning users have the ability to review and test each others ideas for the Android operating system before they are publicly launched.

Schon’s theory regarding problem setting as a key component of professional work applies to Google’s open system theory towards software development because of the set problems associated with operating under this systems theory umbrella (Weick, 8-9). The risk / reward scenario for Google is high on both ends of the spectrum. Allowing the consumer to create content for the Android OS allows for a multitude of developmental ideas to be created for the platform. On the other hand the company should be suspicious  for malicious activities with their open system. Outside system developers could hide viruses, tracking software or spam within their applications to cause harm to the OS and their consumers.

As a critical approach to Google’s open system cognitive dissonance theory can be applied to focus on post decisional efforts to revise the decisions that have negative consequences (Weick, 11). Hypothetically speaking, malicious activities do get into the Android OS and cause harm to the system. Google should create new methods of screening software that is created for the open system including a pre-screening or peer review. These systems may already be in use, however the transparency of their screening process is limited.

The loosely coupled system of Google’s Android OS is limited to the strengths of the devices which run the operating system (Gregory). In some instances some of the user generated content for the Android OS does not result in complete compatibility across all devices. Meaning, if software was developed to work on a Samsung smart phone with a 7 inch screen, it might not be completely compatible with a Motorola phone with a 6 inch screen. This is a direct reason why Apple does not permit an open system, they believe that all systems should work ‘brilliantly’ together and the only way to achieve this is to do it from within their system (closed system).

This indicates that Android’s Open System platform is indeed taking market share away from the industry. However Apple continues to be one of the most profitable companies in the world.

Google’s means for motivating the consumer to use the Android OS can be looked at through Maslow’s looking glass. For instance, Maslow suggests a whole repertoire of means through with users could be motivated. These types are Physiological, Security, Social, Ego, and Self-actualizing.

The Android operating system is still in the process of adapting it’s organization to the environment in which it exists in. The open system has complex organizational needs that must be satisfied to remain healthy and effective. Evolving with it’s users and incorporating new technologies are imperative to meet many of Maslow’s defined needs.

In addition to these, security should be a major concern with users and in the example of Google’s Android OS, this means protecting the user from viruses, spam, and other malicious activities that may be associated with their open source project (Morgan, 36-37).

The Android OS self organizing system approach is adapted from Google’s widely held position on how they are organized. They find great people first, and then allow them to fit in where they fit best (Wheatly).

On a wider scale Google is asking their users to do the same thing with developing software for the Android OS. Is this model of mass efficiency better than Apple’s closed system?


Eisenberg, E. & Goodall., Jr., H. (2010) Organization communications, balancing creativity and constraint. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Weick, K., (1995) Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.

Gregory, K.W. 2012


About Stephen

Father, music junkie, aspiring television producer, & student of media and communications.
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