The Android Open Source Project, or AOSP, allows anyone to build a device using the basic Android operating system, without Google’s permission. However, that also means forgoing all of the Google services that users take for granted as part of Android, from Maps to the Play Store — which is why few are brave enough to take on the challenge.
Enter Russian web giant Yandex, which has spent the last couple of years developing alternative services for those manufacturers who are trying to build an own-brand system on top of AOSP. On Wednesday, the company unveiled what it calls Yandex.Kit, a firmware package that includes email, mapping, a browser, a 3D launcher, and Yandex.Store, which boasts around 100,000 apps.
Yandex isn’t charging for this bundle – this is a services play, from the app store (through which Yandex and the manufacturer or operator both get a cut) to the dialer, which pulls information from Yandex’s Business Directory. The company is also offering customization for operators or device manufacturers who want their own brand stamped over everything.
What’s more, the firm already has a couple of customers that will launch devices using Yandex.Kit in Russia this coming March: Huawei, with a version of its outdoors-friendly Honor 3 handset, and Explay, a Russian manufacturer, with its Flame device.
“Last year we were working over the integration of apps and services with each other plus we spent quite a lot of time to build system tools (like user geolocation) which are not visible for end-user but critical for the firmware and not included in AOSP,” a Yandex spokesman told me.
However, the spokesman was very wary of calling this an Amazon-style Android fork: “We don’t have a plan to develop our own thread of Android — it is extremely expensive and has no strong reasons. We offer the layer on top of AOSP — system tools plus the stack of apps and services.”