If You Think Android Is Free, Open-Source Software? Think Again!

by Istvan Fekete on January 24, 2014

As it turns out, the “Google’s Android software is free and open source” sales pitch is not entirely true, but since you get struck with this information anywhere you look, you start believing it.

The catch is that the basic Android software is free, and it can be downloaded, compiled, and changed by anyone. But this doesn’t hold true for Google’s mobile services such as Maps, Gmail, and Google Play, which are all crucial elements of the Android user experience.

As the Guardian found out, to get these services, a smartphone maker needs a “Google Mobile Services” (GMS) license, just as they need a license for Windows or Windows Phone. GMS licenses are calculated per device; so for example, if a smartphone OEM plans to ship 100,000 handsets running Android, it will need to pay about $75,000, which is $0.75 per device. Oh, and the deal is calculated on an individual basis. However, compared to the $15 it needs to pay for a Windows Phone license, it actually is a low price. Even so, it is enough to blow the “Android is free and open source” euphoria.

Now, if we consider that Google is activating a million devices per day, the search giant generates about $100 million per quarter. Although this revenue compares to $13.7 billion the company reported for the third quarter of 2013, it is still too much for something that it calls “free”.
But the process of getting GMS licences appears to be haphazard and time-consuming.

“Installing Google Play without a GMS licence is illegal,” the source said. But, they explained, Google “don’t have the internal manpower to police it properly. It’s a volume game. Big OEMs [device manufacturers] pay. Smaller OEMs don’t register in Google’s radar, and they [Google] tend to turn a blind eye. Retailers get pressured by legal OEMs to make sure illegal installs of GMS are weeded out. It’s almost like crowdsourcing.”

Going further, Google was careful enough to be vague about the fact that it receives a license payment for every device running Android and its services.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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