Jan 23rd, 2014

Google Play Store

It may come as a surprise to some that while the Android OS is open for the most part, Google’s apps are not, requiring certification in order for OEMs to pre-install them onto their devices. While Gmail and Google Calendar are all apps that would be sorely missed, it’s the Google Play Store and its hundreds of thousands of apps that are the real draw. Without it, manufacturers would be forced to give their users a crippled Android experience.

Android is free — Google services aren’t

While this alone isn’t “news” per se, a report from The Guardian is suggesting that — while you wont find it in any of Google’s accounting — the search giant could be charging some Android OEMs a $.75 per-device-fee to obtain a “Google Mobile Services” license in order to gain access to Google Play. With the millions of Android devices being activated everyday, if you tally up all the pocket change, GMS licensing could bring in Google around $100 million per quarter. This is a drop in the bucket when compared to the $13 billion in revenue Google typically makes every quarter (and barely a fraction of the $15 Microsoft reportedly charges to license out their OS).

The struggle

It’s reported that — despite Google’s hippy open-love vibe — the company doesn’t hand out licenses to just anyone. More than often, this means smaller manufacturers might find themselves left out in the cold. While installing the Play Store without Google’s consent is very much illegal, it’s said that many times smaller OEMs are able to creep past Google’s radar. It’s because of this that many a times it’s left to larger OEMs to do the policing for Google, pressuring retailers to remove illegal non-GMS licensed devices from store shelves whenever they’re found.

Although there aren’t any reports of Google putting the heat on retailers for carrying non-GMS licensed merchandise, you may remember back in 2010 when the low-priced Augen tablet was abruptly pulled from Kmart shelves after the manufacturer “forgot” to remove Google apps from their device. Wonder who could have been behind that?

Is Android really open?

For some, this challenges the belief that Android is as “free and open” a mobile OS as it’s made out to be. We don’t see it that way. It’s as open as it needs to be. Anyone can take the code, do with it as they wilst — no charge. When it comes to the Google Play Store (you know, Google’s primary method for monetizing Android), it only makes sense Google exercise some restraint in who is allowed to have access (and for how much). Thoughts?

UPDATE: Google has denied the claims that they charge any manufacturer a “Google Mobile Services fee.” It’s an entirely possible the fees The Guardian was given were in relation to something else, or could this be an attempt by Google to sweep things under the rug?

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