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Google response to EU fine allows forked devices, shifts un-bundled apps to paid license

Android Pie statue at the Googleplex
Android Pie statue at the Googleplex (Image credit: Android Central)

Google just announced it has filed an appeal with the European Commission (EC) following a $5 billion fine from July related to its licensing terms for Android and Google apps. The crux of the EC's decision earlier this year was its opinion that Google was taking advantage of its position as a dominant operating system to be unfriendly to companies making Android devices. The EC took particular umbrage with Google's requirements to include several Google apps as a bundle, and that licensees making Google-sanctioned Android devices were forbidden from making non-Google-licensed (aka "forked") Android devices.

Though Google has just filed an appeal in hopes of overturning the decision, it has also just outlined its plans for addressing the EC's concerns regardless. The changes fall into two groups: how Google will handle Android licensing terms in the European Economic Area (EEA), and how it will handle licensing of its Google apps on top of Android.

Companies can now make licensed Android builds while also shipping forked builds in Europe.

The most significant change from the manufacturer side is that Google will now allow companies that make Android devices with Google apps to also make other Android devices with their own "forked" versions of the operating system and no Google apps. For example a company could make a regular Android phone with full Google certification, and also an Android tablet with its own version of the OS and no Google apps or services. The one catch here is that Google is only opening this up to companies distributing to the EEA, meaning any devices would have a significantly limited market to sell in.

Next are the changes to the way Google apps are licensed. Android device makers will now be able to license Google's suite of mobile apps (Gmail, Maps, Photos, etc.) separately from Google Search and Google Chrome, which were both previously required. So now, you could theoretically see a phone that had Gmail and Google Maps, but with Microsoft's Bing search engine and Mozilla Firefox with no sign of Google Search or Chrome at all. Google will continue to offer Search and Chrome to anyone, and is going to keep signing commercial agreements for preferential placement of the apps on phones — those are just separate deals from the rest of the apps now.

Google is complying with the EC's complaints, but it's hard to see what the consumer benefit is.

It all sounds good, and more choices for manufacturers is a bonus. But here's the rub: now that Google is removing Search and Chrome from the app bundle, the two apps that actually make Google money, it will have to make the rest of its apps available through a paid license. If a company in the EEA wants to make Android devices with Google apps, sans Search and Chrome, it will now have to pay for the privilege. And you can bet that those apps won't be cheap, nor will the cost simply be eaten by the company — it's likely to be passed on to the retail price.

Google logo

Who wins in this situation? The EC, sure, but this may also mean more expensive Androids in Europe.

Google's making changes to comply with the EC's exact complaints over exclusivity of Android licenses and app bundling, and it's doing so as a show of good faith even as it appeals the decision. But Google's also putting its foot down to show just how much value it gives away for free as of today, with a suite of extremely popular and well-made apps that would typically cost companies millions of dollars to develop for themselves. By forcing Google's hand to un-bundle its money-making Search and Chrome, manufacturers shipping Android in the EEA that decide to forego those apps, as the EC claims they want to do, will pay for the privilege. In the incredibly competitive and price-sensitive consumer electronics world, that's a tough cost to manage.

So who wins in this situation? It's tough to argue European consumers do. The EC's stipulation that companies were being hindered by their inability to ship devices with forked versions of Android is of dubious merit, and now there's a very real possibility that Google-sanctioned devices — a vast majority of Androids sold in the EEA — will cost more when they hit store shelves.

The coming weeks will reveal whether Google's appeal is accepted or the original decision is enacted, but Google plans on placing the above licensing changes into effect on October 29 regardless.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

53 Comments
  • Thanks big government. For every action there is a reaction
  • I wouldn't mind paying for the Play Store as licenced package than Google dictating terms on my phone while still using my data to build and improve their projects. When Google gives you something, they have a long play to get something from you in the future.
  • And we agreed to the terms. Smartphones are still basically a luxury not a necessity. Sure a bit different if work depends on one for productivity. This isn't a crisis by any stretch of the imagination. Why can't some company in the EU come up with a system for competition. At least give it a try.
  • How does $29 sound in licensing fees? Per phone. And no play store.
  • I'm assuming that you wrote this sarcastically, as you wrote "big government", not "government". According to this article's text, this won't change existing license availability (Gmail and Maps don't need to be paid for if Search and Chrome are included), it only adds new options. OTOH, I don't see how this article's writer inferred that position from Google's blog posting.
  • Monopolies arent a viable alternative either, so what's your solution?
  • The EU is not a government but a group of unelected bureaucrats who think they know what's best for everyone, never let member states make their own decisions and never listen to the concerns of elected members of government from those member states. Sounds exactly like a dictatorship to me and we all know what happened to dictators in Europe back in the 40s.
  • The Times mentions a Play Store licence but I don't see that in Google statement. If The Times is right, I don't mind paying to be able to get rid of Google's bloatware. Gmail, Drive, Assistant, Play Music, Play Books, etc, I don't need any of that and I don't like my smartphone storage held hostage by Google's demands. So this is good news to me, if that means the possibility of having a phone with the Play Store licensed and none of the other Google apps built in, even better. By the way, from Google's statement: "wide choice and falling prices", yeah, this is bullsh*t. The prices are going up and the latest versions of Android hinder the choices that can be made by users.
  • I guess that is a good way of looking at it. You are a keg half full kind of guy.
  • Gmail's storage footprint is 22MB. Drive is 25MB. Assistant is 4.6MB. Play Music is 15MB. Play Books is 13MB. All told, you're talking about 80MB of space. In a 64GB phone, that's 1/8th of 1% of the storage of your phone. It seems like you're getting really worked up over something that's practically a drop in a bucket.
  • Exactly... The bloatware mythology just won't die in 2018..... Bloatware was a 2006 problem.
  • I had to abandon my Samsung GT-N2150 LTE S-pen tablet because its 16GB storage was swamped by bloatware, courtesy both Samsung and Google.
  • Play books isn't even mandatory for smartphone makers. But there is an upside when all those apps won't come preinstalled. Normally when you update a system app, the update resides in the user partition, so the app would use twice the amount of storage. If an app is just downloadable, it only takes up space once. So even for people who like to use the apps, there is a win win situation here.
  • Same here. It's a win
  • It's sad, but let the EU pay for it in higher prices, it's their government, their people can take it up with them.
  • To be fair the EU will likely still be paying less than the US with it's crazy new electronics tariffs. Or, we'll all pay both and the excess will be absorbed as profit, because capitalism.
  • Remember fuzzy, the device you are pecking on is possible because of capitalism.
  • I gesture type...
  • Whoa you sure got him!
  • Remember Erik, the device you just replied on is possible because of globalism.
  • Look at my comment further up to see that the EU is NOT a government.
  • Thank God for Brexit!
  • If there was a God I don't think it would want anything to do with that shitshow. Thank an uninformed populace acting against their own best interests for Brexit.
  • If the people of the EU don't like how their government handled this, they can vote...oh, wait, the European Commission is a bunch of unelected bureaucrats? Even a no-deal Brexit is worth the restoration of true democracy.
  • Agreed, the sooner we are rid of them the better.
  • +100
  • Hows being against an unelected bloated bureaucracy acting against their own interests? Seems to me they should determine their own fate, not the morons in Brussels.
  • So you would rather be ruled over by people YOU never elected and have no say in what legislation is put in place? Thank god for Brexit!!!!
  • Yeah... You might not want to throw fireworks yet. If no deal is reached, prices of devices in the UK will rise more than with this.
  • Also prices of food, clothing, fuel...
  • Those prepper packages will come at a premium.
  • So you have a crystal ball then, do you. You know EXACTLY what will happen when we leave the EU like every other Remoaner?
  • Clearly you have no idea about the impending doom that it will cause. Nor do you have any concept that many of the "European rules" that were voted against were the British bureaucrats' interpretations in far more detail than the original rules. We aren't getting rid of those bureaucrats, we're giving them free reign.
  • This article reads as from someone who cannot be objective because they love Google so much. The less Google apps on my phone the better. Let the consumer choose.
  • I'm also excited with the prospect of less Google apps on my phone.
    The thing I hate most is this "Google gives their services free" kind of talk, no they don't. They give a service as a Trojan horse for their own business. They pull data from everyone who has a Google certified Android phone. I would very much like to have a choice.
  • Even though it might be a inferior product or service? Choice is good I guess. We will see.
  • You can either uninstall or disable any of the bundled apps.
  • To be fair that is what Samsung user says. Don't get me wrong I'm on your side. In my opinion the only Samsung app that is on par with Google is their browser. This is going to be a cluster.
  • I don't think it's about loving Google. This is the way I see it. Google is selling a product and manufacturers are choosing to buy the product. No one is forcing the manufacturers to buy the product and they can use their own products. I don't know why the government is involved in any of this.
  • Because Google is a successful American company and the EU hates successful American companies operating there.
  • Yep. Google apps act more like malware :)
  • So what would you have instead? A different system on each phone based by manufacturer?
    Remember, they'd have no play store, so the would be no easy way for developers to monetise any app they developed, even if the manufacturer let it replace their dedicated app. I wouldn't want to be limited to Samsung apps, or Huawei apps - though they are probably the best. They are what gets immediately blocked on my new phones.
    No integration with equivalents unless you are in the same eco system, and good luck syncing with a PC.
    Would Samsung etc have developed and slimmed down their apps if it weren't for Google sitting there on the phone?
    The VAST majority of people have absolutely no interest in the apps per se, or the privacy. What they want is a device that does what they need without them having to think about it. Just look at all the people using Facebook messenger! This ruling means disaster if those non technical people have to sort out why their new phone suddenly has no contacts, emails or diary. Can you remember the days of having to copy everything to SIM card and hoping that you could copy it back onto your new phone? I can.
  • I wonder what impact, if any, there will be on developers. If they want to support these forked variants, I expect they'll need to develop solutions to address the missing services. Will this add to the perception that Android is harder to develop for than iOS?
  • Yes, it will. Not to mention those "forked" variants likely will have even LESS support than Google-Android variants since, well, OEMs have been shown to not give a **** about a consumer once they've sold the device.
  • Basically it will be Google, Samsung (if they want to go a different route) and Apple. Devs will go where the money is. Can you imagine Android forked more than it already is? Nothing good can become of this. Once again self serving politicians thinking they know what is right for the populus. A can of worms is about to be opened.
  • Ok I'm a idiot , got populus wrong. Oh well , time to leave the local watering hole.
  • App developers most likely do not want to manage individual downloads and add more servers for these kind of transactions. That is the beauty of the play store and app store, they do all that for the developer. If an app developer wants to offer their app outside of these established markets, they absorb the cost there.
  • Enjoy your price hike, Europeans!
  • I would say thanks but being from the UK.....
  • It will end up with more bloat on phones as you may get alternative stores and everything as well. Try using a android phone without Google they are rubbish. I once installed a rom and forgot to install gapps (I know amateur error) but I thought I'd try it out and get alternative apps but man was the phone rubbish it really did kill the phone.
  • Only the European Union would find a too typical European Union solution to Google.... Raise costs for consumers by making them buy Google apps in order to use them. The European Union has essentially created a Google Tax for Android users. Apple must be laughing all the way to the bank.
  • What doesn't help is that phones cost stupid amounts of money already which means that manufacturers are going to suffer as well.
  • In the end, it's the people that will be punished.