Makey Awards 2011 Nominee 05: Google Android, “Most Hackable Gadget”

Makey Awards 2011 Nominee 05: Google Android, “Most Hackable Gadget”

And it’s not just because the Android and Makeys mas-bots were apparently separated at birth.

And yes, we know Android is technically an operating system, and Android-compatible phones are really an entire class of gadgets. But in one sense, that’s the whole point. Gadget-lovers will debate the pros and cons of particular handsets endlessly, and there are significant other players in the smartphone market, but increasingly, the most informative demographic among smartphone users these days is “Android or iPhone?”

And though we have seen plenty of clever iPhone, iPod, and iOS hacks, and have no desire to dress Apple in a black cowboy hat (nor Google in a white one), it is Android, we find, that takes the prize in terms of opennness, hackability, and overall maker-friendliness. But don’t just take our word for it; let facts, as somebody once said, be submitted to a candid world:

  • The Android app store is open. Anyone with the means can produce an Android app and sell or give it away through the Android store, whereas the iPhone app store is closed, requiring developers to submit applications for approval before they can be shared. For consumers, there are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. But for hackers, developers, programmers, and makers, we think open is better.
  • Google has released the Android Open Accessory Kit, which is a fully OSHW-compliant package designed to make it easy to develop hardware accessories for Android-compatible phones. Though the AOAK is not perfect, it is a world apart from Apple’s “licensed developers” regime, and that it is built around Arduino is icing on the cake.
  • Android has more versatile Bluetooth support than iOS. Yes, iOS has Bluetooth features, but it won’t let you talk to just any Bluetooth device. On Android, you get an RFCOMM channel, so you can take a $40 SparkFun Bluetooth Mate Silver and write an app that sends whatever you want over a virtual serial port.

Is that the whole story? No. Is it possible, or even likely, that the smartphone landscape will change in the weeks, days, or hours ahead to tip the hackability balance back in the other direction? Yes. But for now: Congrats, Googlers, and welcome to the running for the 2011 Makeys!


If you have a suggestion for a company to be nominated for “Most Hackable Gadget,” or one of the other three 2011 Makey awards, please send an e-mail to or just leave a comment, below.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

View more articles by Sean Michael Ragan


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