After the European Union slapped Google with a $5 billion fine in an antitrust case this summer, Google appealed the ruling. But while waiting for the outcome of that appeal, Google has come up with a plan B: the company is changing the way it licenses its apps and services for Android phones and tablets sold in European Union member countries.

Android itself will continue to be a free and open source operating system that anyone can modify. But device makers that want to license the Google Play Store, Gmail, YouTube, and other apps now have more choices… not all of them are free though.

Previously Google made all of its apps available as a bundle deal called Google Mobile Services. Device makers agreed to a certain set of conditions and gained the ability to load the Play Store, YouTube, Gmail, and the Chrome web browser and Google Search app on their devices.

Google could afford to give everything away for free because it makes money from advertising through the Google Search and Google Chrome apps.

Responding to the EU ruling, Google is making a couple of significant changes to its licensing terms in the EU starting October 29th, 2018:

  • Device makers will be able to install Google mobile applications including the Play Store, YouTube, and Gmail without also including Google Search and Google Chrome — but Google will start charging for a license to do that. Those apps will not be free for device makers if they aren’t bundled with Chrome and Google Search.
  • Google will offer separate licenses for Google Search and Chrome apps.
  • Device makers will be able to license Google apps on “non-compatible, or forked” phones or tablets distributed in the European Economic Area. In other words, you could see the Play Store on a tablet with a fork of Android (like the Fire OS software that runs on Amazon’s Fire tablets — although I doubt Amazon really wants you using Google’s app store).

It’s a little unclear to me at this point if all phone and tablet makers in the EU will have to pay for Google apps. It certainly sounds like anyone who wants to use Google’s software for free will be able to continue doing so by accepting the current deal: you get the Play Store for free if you also bundle Google Search and Chrome on your phones.

If that’s the case, I suspect most device makers will continue to take that route since it probably provides the experience most consumers have come to expect and it’s the cheapest option.

I doubt that’s what the EU court had in mind when it ruled that Google’s licensing terms were anti-competitive. But Google’s move to allow companies to load its apps on devices with Android forks could enable more competition in the operating system space.

 

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8 replies on “Android phone makers may have to start paying for the Play Store, other Google apps (in Europe)”

  1. What’s the problem? What great wrong Google has done??

    Nobody has problem with Facebook, then why Google!!

  2. Knowing everything about every person on the planet is the real play (no pun intended) by Google. Giving this stuff away for free was part of that play. Fees? Meh. It’s hot air. It’s pathetic really. If they could, they would offer unlimited data to the globe, for free. Dare I say on the surface, this sounds douchey on Google’s part.

  3. If the manufacturer pays a license fee to Google:
    – will i be able to uninstall it?
    – will Google still suck data from me?

    if the manufacturer doesn’t pay the license fee to Google:
    – can i still install it? even if i have to pay for it?

    1. I suspect the big difference is that if the manufacturer doesn’t pay the fee you’ll be able to easily uninstall the app (or not install it at all). If they do pay the fee you’d only be able to disable the app. Not a huge difference given the storage of modern phones.

  4. Nothing in these rules about security updates… felt bad about Google’s 5 billion dollar fine. Now? Not so much.

    1. Good news (10.23.18): Google is apparently now requiring security updates. “Google’s contract with Android partners stipulates that they must provide “at least four security updates” within one year of the phone’s launch. Security updates are mandated within the second year as well” … ” for any device launched after January 31st, 2018 that’s been activated by more than 100,000 users.”

      It’s about time. To think that Google could have mandated this at any time but at least it’s getting done now.

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