Recently, a developer of the popular Home screen and Lawnchair launcher app (I love to play with words, and have always been) decided to cut ties with the team when he found out that the app was using a “stolen” icon from Google’s Pixel Launcher.
I hate addressing drama to developers. People, whether they are software developers, auto mechanics, or anything else, are allowed to have any expectations about their work environment that they would like to have. If a developer doesn’t want to link to a group that uses copyrighted code without permission, we should respect that and move on.
And that’s all I’m going to say about the developer who decided it was best to break up. Good luck to you, and never stop doing what you think is the right thing.
It’s about “theft” things. You may have noticed that I put the word in quotation marks as if I was trying to imply that it is not the right word to describe what happened. I think it’s a really tough call to describe it as “stealing” for several reasons.
Is it stealing though?
So, it is clear that the Lawnchair team does not have permission from Google to use any icon from the Pixel Launcher. It’s also clear that Google doesn’t seem to mind this happening. What is not clear is what actually happened.
Google provides a 100% functional app launcher icon and home screen app for Android phones. It’s on the AOSP, and anyone is free to take it and do whatever they want to do with it. The problem is that it lacks many of the features that people would want an app of this type to have.
Google does not share its Pixel Launcher app icon. At one point, it was available on the Play Store for any phone use, but even that was discontinued. If you want to use Pixel Launcher 100% “legally”, you need to buy a Pixel phone. (Those annoying quotes again.)
Or – and this is the most important part of the whole mess – if you want the features from the Pixel Launcher on any phone, you install a third-party alternative that does a good job of “copying” it and even doing it better. Like Lawnchair.
Yes, I say that we Sometimes the code is stolen. Note that there are no quotes.
It’s easy to reverse engineer an Android app and get a really good idea of the actual code used to make it. You can’t always get a full copy of all of that, and there are plenty of ways to make it tricky. However, if you have a computer and a few hours to follow an online tutorial, you can break down almost any application into its simplest parts.
This is nothing new, nor is it something unique to Android either. Developers and hackers have been reverse engineering software forever, and some are Very prominent groups in the technology industry I think it is good to do so. On the flip side, this is probably 100% illegal. Within the European Union If you want to make something out of it yourself. I’m trying to say it’s a big big gray area.
I won’t preach because I did. I was tired of waiting for HTC to do something I wanted the company to do, so I dug in and did it myself, then shared my work with anyone who wanted it. Many people who read Android websites have either done it themselves or have installed something from someone who did.
Lawnchair’s case is similar. The app uses its own code base, but as more and more people want specific features, an easy way to achieve this was to decode the Pixel Launcher, see how Google did it, and then either emulate it or just use the code.
Is this theft? I don’t know, I’m a nerd, not a lawyer. I would say yes, it’s “stealing”, but it’s not a big deal because of Google’s reaction. I will stop using quotes now.
Protecting your copyright is a real thing
The people at Google who worked hard to make Pixel Launcher do the things people enjoy deserve recognition for their work. Writing software is a tough way to make a living, and it can feel like a failure for most of your workday until you get it right.
We don’t automatically deserve features from Pixel Launcher unless we buy a Pixel phone. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t want them, just that we don’t have the right to not pay them because we decided the Pixel isn’t the best phone for us.
Ultimately, though, it’s up to Google to protect their intellectual property rights, but they haven’t. Google either knew or had the ability to know that Lawnchair was using a special proprietary code from the Pixel team. If she didn’t know, she knows now.
Until Google sends a cease and desist note to the Lawnchair team, manipulate them. Apps like Lawnchair benefit Google more than anyone else because it is another app that makes people enjoy using Android. More people using Android means more people using Google Play, and that means more money in Alphabet accounts.
Reverse engineering and hacking (the good kind) was an Android thing Since the beginning. I respect a developer who takes a stand and follows their consciousness, but I also wouldn’t write off another developer who did something easy – and historically acceptable – A sneak peek into Google’s own work.
This will be resolved by the Lawnchair team and we will forget about it. Then something similar will happen and we will mention it. It’s the Android way.