For as long as Android has been around, we have known it to be Open Source. The big idea behind such a mobile operating system as Android, is to allow for OEM’s, developers and anyone with a software engineering background or skills to mess with the operating system in ways that many of us may have never imagined. This wouldn’t be the first time Google has been under the microscope for claims that their mobile OS wasn’t as Open Source as advertised. There has been much debate over what Google’s policies were in regards to Google mobile services and the inclusion of Google’s “core apps” on OEM devices, namely and most recently with Samsung who is Android’s biggest manufacturer currently. It seems that Google is once again being called out over mobile service restrictions, with the Wall Street Journal making claims that Google has a certain set of “strings attached” for manufacturers to use their apps and services. To use Google’s services such as the Play Store and their core apps, Google requires the companies to sign a particular agreement called “The Mobile Application Distribution Agreement” that states the OEM’s will have to meet a list of requirements to use said apps and services on their devices. Using Google’s apps and services requires a few notable things from the OEM, which is to make Google Search the main search engine for the device, while other Google apps can be no further than one screen away. If you take a look at where Google makes the bulk of it’s money, it isn’t from Android, it’s from their services like Search. So it makes sense from a business standpoint for Google to do this, but some feel it ruins the integrity of the idea that the Android Open Source Project(AOSP) was built upon.
The claims being brought up have caused European Anti-trust Authorities to take notice, which is now resulting in them starting an investigation to see if Google has violated any such Anti-trust laws. This ties in with the Anti-trust laws within Europe that require companies to harbor competition and endorse it. As some feel that Google has found a way to sidestep the competition in a sense, they are now being called into question for violating laws along those terms. While there are certainly some valid points being made about Google policies and practices surrounding their apps and services for Android OEM’s, we would all do well to remember a few simple factors when and if looking at Google as a company that is guilty of the claims being made. Requiring the signing of an agreement that asks OEM’s to meet Google’s terms before having access to Google services and apps on their devices, does not make it so that right down to the consumer level, that users are prohibited from using other competing services. Bing for instance can still be used as search engine if any user so wishes. Mapquest has an app in the Play Store, that is available for download by anyone who prefers the service over Google’s own maps application. There are also no laws within the United States that mirror those of the European countries, which won’t make it easy to prove that Google has violated any Anti-trust laws in the first place.
While the restrictions may seem like they do the opposite of promote competition, Google’s restrictions regarding their apps are far from being unreasonable. Google still allows anyone who wants to use the Android operating system to do so, but the services and apps such as the Play Store and others are Google’s right, so they can require their services draw more attention for the cost of using them. Just like Microsoft promotes Bing as the default and main search engine for its Windows Phone devices, Google is doing the same for their operating system. The difference is that the Android OS at it’s core can be manipulated however the OEM sees fit. You don’t see any Windows Phone OEMs getting to change the look of Windows Phone with their own custom User Interfaces. When you take a step back and give the picture a good hard look, it boils down to the competition trying to find a way around actually competing. Having access to the Android OS along with a few terms for apps shouldn’t put Google in the wrong here.