Google has announced that it is going to start charging a licencing fee to phone manufacturers for Google Services.

Following on from the European Commision’s competition decision to fine Google on the grounds of Anti-Trust, and the abuse of it’s power in relation to Android, and it’s bundled applications, Google has now announced changes to the way it licences the Android Apps and Operating System.

What does this mean for Android?

Android will continue to be “Free and Open Source”, however there will now be fees involved for Google Play Store (and associated Apps), Google Search and Chrome.

The basic Android operating system will continue to be free and open-source, but if manufacturers want Google’s apps and the Play Store, they’ll have to pay a licensing fee in European markets. Additionally they’ll now be able to license Chrome and search separately, rather than having everything as a single bundle.

Or in Simple Terms:

  • The Android Operating system will continue to be free and open source for anyone to use.
  • The Google Play store, and associated Apps (Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps etc) will be under one licence bundle.
  • Google Chrome, and the Search App will be bundled into a second bundle, which can be added to the Play Store Bundle for free, but will no longer be required.

A risk to the Status Quo?

This could potentially cause shake-up in the Android Operating System world, with manufacturers such as Samsung or Huawei now being able to offer forked versions (such as Amazon’s Fire OS) of Android on flagship devices, rather than “Standard” Android. It would be a significant step for one of the big manufacturers to do this, and could trigger a lot of fragmentation of the SmartPhone market, which could be a bit of a nightmare for anyone developing Android-based applications. 

Whether any company would make this step remains to be seen, they would need to step away from the Google Play Store entirely, which is no small feat, and they’d need to convince the App Developers to build compatible Apps for their new stores, so as to ensure their phones can still launch with all of the Apps we’ve become accustomed to, such as Facebook, SnapChat or Spotify etc.

The reality is that time will tell as to whether manufacturers want to take this step, for consumers it could cause some confusion, especially with regards Premium Android apps, and whether they can transfer from one ecosystem to another. It might not be revolutionary for a manufacturer to go down this route, but it could lead to reduced costs for consumers, the Google-Free Amazon Fire OS devices are amongst some of the cheapest devices on the market, arguably without risking a drop in quality. 

So everything could change, or nothing could change. For Google though this could be the biggest threat to Android’s dominance of the SmartPhone market that it has faced in many years.