European Union force Google to unbundle, license Android application suite to competitors

A 3D-printed Android mascot Bugdroid is seen in front of a Google logo in this illustration taken

Android smartphone makers will have increased flexibility to distribute search and browser apps from Google's rivals such as Microsoft, Opera Ltd and Mozilla to develop devices with the operating system heavily customized.

The changes are in response to a almost $5 billion fine levied at Google by the European Commission.

"If, for example, Samsung wanted to do a really pure Samsung device based on a forked version of Android, with a Samsung browser, Samsung Maps and Bixby as the lead voice assistant - but without the parallel Google services - they could", said Ben Wood, from the CCS Insight consultancy.

European Union regulators decided it was unfair for Google to force smartphone makers that used Android to also install its apps.

It is ending a ban on manufacturers having a line-up that includes tablets and phones powered by alternative versions of the operating system to its own as well as ones that feature Google's own apps and Play Store.




The European Commission announced the penalty in July, after ruling that the USA company had been using Android to illegally "cement its dominant position" in search. Chrome and Google search will not be compulsory even if manufacturers want to continue offering the Google Play Store, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Play Music, and other apps. The EU Competition Commissioner gave Google 90 days to act upon the ruling.

Writing in a blog post, Google's senior vice president of platforms and ecosystems, Hiroshi Lockheimer, reiterates that the company will be appealing against the EC's ruling, stressing its belief that "Android has created more choice, not less".

Separate licenses for Google Search and Chrome will be available too, allowing more piecemeal inclusion of software. Another license will let phone makers include Google's search engine and Chrome browser. Alphabet, Google's parent company, makes nearly 90 percent of its $100 billion in annual sales from search and advertising. To be clear, nothing about Android itself is changing - it will remain completely free to use. The company has not specified the amount of the licensing fees.

From a customer perspective, it's not likely that much will change here unless European smartphone makers decide to pass these new costs on to their customers.

It said the requirement that some manufacturers preinstall Google applications as a condition for licensing the Google Play store, as well as the payments made to other, larger phone makers and operators for pre-installing the Google search app on devices were helping to cement the company's search leadership.

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