GOOGLE IS CLEARLY miffed at the European Commission (EC) for slapping it with a massive fine for exploiting its Android dominance, so it will now charge phone makers who want to use Google apps a licensing fee.
The search giant has reworked its licensing policies to separate the use of Google apps from the base Android operating system, known as the Android Open Source Project.
Typically, device makers in Europe looking to use Android and Google apps on their devices would need to agree to use Google's Play Store and its Search service as default, which many of us have come to see as core parts of the Android experience even when the base OS and the apps are actually separate.
Google offered access to its apps and search engine for free due to the revenue it generates through such services. But the EC took umbrage with such a setup, decided Google was being anticompetitive and, after some legal wrangling, it hit the company with a fine to the tune of £3.8bn.
While Google appeals that decision, it has moved to split the base Android OS from its apps and services. This means phone makers will still be able to use Android through the Android Open Source Project, but access to the Play Store and associated Google apps will cost them an as yet undisclosed licensing fee.
Such a fee is likely an attempt to offset some of the moolah Google will lose from not having its Play Store and search services as default on some handsets or tablets.
That fee will prove access to classic Android apps like Gmail, YouTube, and Google Maps, but not Chrome.
Google's browser and search services can be added on top of Google apps licensing fee through a separate agreement. But the search giant won't force phone makers to use its search engine over rival services if they only want access to the Google apps now synonymous with Android.
"We'll also offer new commercial agreements to partners for the non-exclusive pre-installation and placement of Google Search and Chrome. As before, competing apps may be pre-installed alongside ours," added Hiroshi Lockheimer, senior vice president of platforms and ecosystems at Google.
Previously, gadget makers using Android would need to fully commit to Google's app and service ecosystem and weren't allowed to create phones that would run other software if they had agreed to use Android.
Google's new approach to licensing will now allow the likes of Samsung, Sony and LG to create flagships that run an OS separate to base Android, though we doubt many companies will do that.
In fact, we suspect many phone makers will cough up for the fee and stick with Google's suite of services as they are now something people expect as a standard for Android, given how well all of Google's services integrate on more modern Android versions.
This could have the rather nasty knock-on effect of hardware makers passing on the cost of forking out for a license on to consumers in the way of hiked up more-expensive smartphones phones.
The Commission seems pretty pleased with Google's decision though it noted that it will watch the search giant like a hawk to ensure it complies with the EC's antitrust rules.
"It is for Google to decide exactly how to comply with the Commission's decision. The decision does not require Google to charge for any of its apps or for the Play Store," an EC spokesperson said in a widely distributes statement.
"In fact, the decision is designed to allow, for the first time, competing search and browser providers to compete on the merits with Google for pre-installation on Android devices, leading to greater choice for consumers."
Google would argue that such competition was already in place and that's one of the reasons it's in the process of appealing the EC's fine. If such an appeal is successful, Google could pull a 180 and go back to its current license process - the new licensing comes into effect on 29 October.
For the time being, we'll just have to wait and see, but we hope we don't have to fork out more for Android phones in the long-term as flagship phone prices are already high enough with handsets like the Galaxy Note 9 sitting around the £800 mark. µ
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