Google makes the open source parts of Android freely available, but those aren't the parts everyone wants. The Google apps and services are what make Android devices desirable, and Google keeps those firmly under its control. A new report from The Guardian alleges that Google's device certification process for OEMs to get Gapps isn't free – the OEM has to pay a small per-device license fee for Google's services.
According to The Guardian's source, an OEM that wants to ship 100,000 tablets can expect to pay Google about $75,000 in license fees. That works out to $0.75 per device. It is alleged that the exact amount varies by OEM and the number of devices (a volume discount, I guess). The deals are made on an individual basis, but not all OEMs have the resources to go the official route. Small companies are probably loading Google services on devices without paying the license fee, but they aren't large enough players to register on Google's radar.
Google's publicly available information on "joining the ecosystem" is pretty vague – intentionally vague, according to The Guardian. The process of forging a license agreement is kept secret, which is why we haven't heard about the numbers until now. It's possible this could be misinformation from a single untrustworthy source, but it's believable that OEMs would have kept the process under wraps this whole time – they have nothing to gain by leaking the price tag. And $0.75 is a whole lot less than the $15 license fee for Windows Phone.
Update: Google has responded to us via email to deny that it charges a license fee for Google Mobile Services. However, it would not say if, perhaps, there were some other fees that gave rise to this story.