Google has not admitted defeat in its ongoing battle with the European Commission, but it has announced some changes to its Android device policies meant to address the Commission’s concerns. In the EU, device makers will have more freedom in the way they use and license Android from Google, but they’ll also have to pay higher fees. Consumers may also start seeing some unusual Android devices that were not previously allowable.
Earlier this year, the EU announced a record $5 billion fine for Google over the way it licensed its software and services to Android devices. For years, Google’s Android license has been an all-or-nothing deal. OEMs needed to pre-load Google Search, Chrome, and other apps if they wanted to have the Play Store. Google also restricted the use of incompatible Android forks by companies with Android licenses. Much of that will change in the EU going forward.
If a company wishes to sell phones with the Play Store, it can choose not to pre-install Chrome and Google Search in Europe. That frees them up to bundle apps from other providers, which could become an additional revenue stream. Consumers could still install Google’s apps from the Play Store, but at least in the case of search, functionality may be limited as the app would not be a system component. If an OEM decided to do this, Google will charge an additional fee per device because bundling Chrome and Search is a core part of Android’s revenue model.
Google is also planning to offer new deals to OEMs to encourage them to install Chrome and Search. These commercial agreements would pay device makers to add Chrome and Search, even if competing services were also pre-loaded. Honestly, I don’t know who would by a licensed Android device that didn’t have Google Search bundled, so OEMs will surely take Google up on this.
The last change is potentially much more problematic for Google. It will no longer stop its partners from selling devices with incompatible “forks” of Android — devices that don’t work with Android apps and services. Since Android is open source, anyone can modify it for their own purposes. Google doesn’t like its partners doing that because it can create user confusion and platform fragmentation. OEMs can ship such devices in the EU alongside licensed Android hardware, but forked software still won’t have Google services.
Google says the new license terms go into effect on October 29th, but only for the EU. Everyone else has the same restrictions. In addition, Google is continuing its appeal against the European Commission decision to overturn the ruling.
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