Google is changing the way it licenses its suite of Android apps in Europe, leading the company to charge a licensing fee for the Play Store and other Google apps for the first time.
The changes come in response to a July ruling by the European Commission, which fined the company $5 billion for antitrust violations and ordered it to stop “illegally tying” Chrome and search apps to Android.
Google hasn’t historically charged for Android and its app because of the revenue it gets from Chrome and search. But splitting them up changes the equation, so companies will now find themselves paying for things — like the Play Store — that we generally consider to be core parts of Android, but are in reality Google services.
The base Android operating system will remain free and open-source, but if phone and tablet manufacturers want Google’s apps and the Play Store, they’ll have to pay a license fee in Europe. And they’ll now be able to license Chrome and search separately, rather than being required to accept everything as a bundle. Companies will now be able to license and install the Play Store and Google’s apps onto forked versions of Android as well — something Google used to prohibit.
To break it down:
- Android, more formally known as AOSP, or Android Open Source Project, is free.
- Chrome, in a bundle with the Google Search app, is free.
- The Play Store and Google’s other apps, like Gmail, Google Calendar, and YouTube, will cost a license fee. It is not yet clear how much that fee is or how it is structured.
Device makers can mix and match these offerings, so it is possible to build a phone that runs Android and has Chrome and search on it, but not the Play Store and Google’s other apps. Or you can have an Android phone and pay the fee to license the Play Store, but leave Chrome and Search out. Or you can build your own version of Android, as Amazon does, and put Chrome and Google search on it for free.
“Since the pre-installation of Google Search and Chrome together with our other apps helped us fund the development and free distribution of Android, we will introduce a new paid licensing agreement for smartphones and tablets shipped into the [European Economic Area],” writes Hiroshi Lockheimer, who leads Android.
Lockheimer clarifies that Android more broadly will remain free and open source — these changes only affect the Google services that are traditionally bundled with the OS. And companies can choose to ship a device without Google’s apps and services if they don’t want to pay, as Amazon has long done and as already happens in China, where Google doesn’t operate.
But the Play Store is likely to keep phone and tablet makers attached to Google, since it’s where users can access the vast majority of Android apps. And since there is no way to get the Play Store and Google’s apps in Europe without paying the license fee anymore, it’s likely that cost will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher device prices.
That said, Google is appealing the European Commission’s ruling. Ultimately, it doesn’t want to have to split up Android, Chrome, and search. But for the time being, it has to comply with the commission’s decision, and it’s going to put these changes into place starting October 29th.
A spokesperson for the European Commission said that Google isn’t required to charge for its apps or the Play Store, and that it’s Google’s responsibility to change its policies in a way that complies with the ruling. “The Commission will closely monitor Google’s compliance to ensure that the remedy is effective and respects the decision,” the spokesperson said. They added that the decision is meant to allow other browsers and search engines to “compete on the merits with Google for pre-installation on Android devices.”
Update, 2:05PM ET: Clarified Google’s licensing terms for the Play Store and apps.
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