The newest Google Android scandal hit the airwaves on Friday. Only it’s not actually a scandal, nor is it really new.
The Information procured documents showing that Google has some new requirements for handset makers who want to use Google services on their Android phones (subscription required):
“Confidential documents viewed by The Information show Google has been adding requirements for dozens of manufacturers like Samsung Electronics, Huawei Technologies and HTC that want to build devices powered by Android. Among the new requirements for many partners: increasing the number of Google apps that must be pre-installed on the device to as many as 20, placing more Google apps on the home screen or in a prominent icon folder and making Google Search more prominent.”
I’ll assume the documentation is legitimate, mainly because these types of requirements have been in place for years. Yes, Google may be adding new requirements here but I’m not sold on this being a big deal. If anything, I think it’s good from a consumer standpoint.
Why? Because it guarantees that if you switch between Android phone models or phone makers, you’ll have greater consistency in the Android experience. Far too much of handset maker efforts are made at duplicating Google’s own apps; that’s why you’ll see multiple email clients on some Android devices, for example. How is that possibly a positive customer experience?
Choice is certainly important too, I’m not saying it isn’t. And even if you buy the latest Android phone from Samsung, LG, HTC or another Google hardware partner, you can remove the app shortcuts that the handset maker is required to prominently feature.
What if you don’t want those Google apps and services in the first place? That’s a great question and my answer is simple: Don’t buy a [company]Google[/company] Android device. Instead, look for a phone with software built from the open-sourced version of Android, commonly known as AOSP, or Android Open Source Project.
Google apps aren’t present in that software so device makers — and consumers, for that matter — can do what they want with it. [company]Amazon[/company] uses AOSP software as the basis for its Fire OS, for example. Xiaomi sells millions of Android phones without any Google apps in China. In fact, this is becoming a predominant approach for Android phones in Asia which have no Google services installed, and consequently Google has absolutely no say over what is or isn’t on the device. Or you could buy a standard Google Android phone and install your own Android software; there are dozens of custom versions and tutorials available to do so.
This new requirement set isn’t really about Android then; it’s about using Google’s apps and services on Android — a subtle but important point. And for that reason, Google should have every say about how its software should be represented.