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Last Updated: January 24th, 2014

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.

Latest-Google-Apps1

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.

[The Guardian]

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • Thomas’

    Well, I did expect the certification process to be paid, but not on a per-device base.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      I assume the certification process has a separate cost structure, assuming it costs money at all. This is just volume licensing for Google Apps, not related to the actual certification process.

  • h4rr4r

    Yeah, they need something to cover certification costs.

  • aNYthing6

    Honestly, that isn't all that much. Probably not making any real money off of that.

    • SSDROiD

      Android isn't Google's main income or Google wouldn't be where it is today. It actually seems like Android is sort of a side-project to Google after reading this, sort of trying to make some extra cash on the side.

      • Ambroos

        Almost everything Google does isn't to make a profit directly, but to get people deeper in their ecosystem so they can show you better and more ads, which they get more money for in return.

        I see it as a win-win-win. Win for me, I get excellent services with less-bad ads than other services'. Win for advertisers since their ads are served to a huge audience more likely to respond to them. Win for Google because they make money.

        • Marc Edwards

          now if only google would get into the porn buisness. those ads are really annoying.

          anyway...

    • Clint P

      I'd be willing to bet that it's just about a complete wash for them. They simply do this to ensure that devices that officially support Google Apps aren't total garbage.

  • jpelgrom

    It sounds logical - you have to pay to give your users access to Google's services, and thereby make your device not fail.

  • Porkchop

    I thought this was already known--there's a reason the cheap Chinese tablets and the like never included GApps. They had to be verified devices, and included in that is a small cost to Google for their proprietary apps.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      There's a pretty big difference between "known" and "suspected." It has long been suspected, but that's it - anything out there until now has been total speculation. Google obviously keeps this stuff under a tight NDA, as nothing has leaked about Gapps licensing costs before today.

      • Ryan Andes

        I would assume most power users knew this already. It's why ROMs like CyanogenMod lack the Gapps files. I'm almost positive Cyanogen himself stated this a few years back, explaining why you had to flash a separate file for Google applications.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

          No. It was understood there was a license, and a certification process. Never has cost been mentioned before.

          • Ryan Andes

            That sends naive, but OK

        • Sorian

          CyanogenMod just doesn't have the gapps loaded (if I understand what you mean by gapps). The play Store is loaded and I just had to download Music, Movies, etc. but nothing was "blocked".

          • Evan Cm

            you had to have installed gapps if you have play store access. Gapps is far more than just a couple Google-made user apps. Its all of the background programs that connect to and synchronize your data with Google's cloud services. Without gapps you won't be able to do any of that.

            Normally ROMs are installed alongside a separate gapps package, if you did that then everything would work as it should.

          • Sorian

            *Shrugs* Guess Cyanogen had all the needed parts there, didn't need to do anything to get Google services to work. After the install was done, logged into my account like I did/do on my other stock devices.

          • Frettfreak

            CM doesnt make your phone. theres the difference

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

        Unless the story isn't even true, that is. Which according to Google, it isn't. I'm not sure who to trust anymore.

    • hairyback

      So if I buy one of those Chinese devices can I pay the .75 for GApps? I'm suspecting the answer is no.

      • fonix232

        That is for the manufacturer to pay, not you. For you, it is either included in the price, or not paid at all (in that case, you can get the regular GApps and integrate it, though it is not so simple the everyday user can do it).

        • hairyback

          oh that's even better. Would I need to root the device or something?

          • PaintDrinkingPete

            I'm not 100% positive, but I believe root is necessary to flash GApps.

            Generally, if you have to ask this question, the answer is "yes"

          • Alan Shearer

            Flashing a gapps package requires a custom recovery such as twrp cwm. And it has to be the correct package for the android version.

          • PaintDrinkingPete

            That's what I thought. I've never owned an unrooted device without a custom recovery, so sometimes I forget what can and cannot be done without it.

        • Evan Cm

          I would also be careful before flashing gapps on a device the manufacturer did not intend gapps to come with. These manufacturers may have changed the device to fill the void left by the missing gapps, thus rendering them incompatible with the new firmware. Do some good research first before you flash anything, that's a key rule to always follow

    • fonix232

      Never include? Don't make me laugh... Most of the big names (chipset-wise, e.g. Rockchip, MTK, etc.) include Google Play, and half of them isn't even in any business relation with Google.

      Problem is that none of the Chinese manufacturers (the original, OEM manufacturers, not the ones who rebrand it!) are present on the international market (sans the really big ones e.g. Oppo, Xiaomi, etc.), and resellers can point at them, as they are the only source they can receive firmwares from.

    • http://my.opera.com/rafaelluik Rafael Luik

      I think differently, I aways thought it was because of the Great Firewall of China.

  • usaff22

    So the Nexus profit margin is even smaller? lol

  • Michael J Carroll

    Think nexus devices for away with not paying it? And what about GPE devices?

    • SSDROiD

      Aren't both Nexus and Google Play devices Google's own devices? I wouldn't think they paid themselves...

      • Michael J Carroll

        They're made and designed by the phone manufacturers. Seeing as they are historically low selling devices, I would assume that Google encourages participation by lowering fees on other devices also.

        • Shywim

          Nexus manufacturers aren't graciously making devices for Google. Google pay them to make Nexus, so if Nexus manufacturers would pay for Google Play, the money flow would be Google -> Manufacturer -> Google == Paying themselves. For GPE devices, I don't know, but I think it is the same as their normal counterparts.

          • Michael J Carroll

            Oh I know they aren't. But with the sale of the phones as low as they are, it would seem like Google would have to give other ways to encourage them to make Nexus phones.

  • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

    So now every OEM is either going to agree and pay to Google or make their own Apps? Like, Samsung already has Samsung Hub/S-Voice/S-Memo instead of Play Store/Now/Google Kepp

    • PezLee

      This has been this way for a long time and the GApps are still on Samsung (and all the other big players) devices. All this "report" did was put numbers on it.

  • David

    So Android isn't opensource because Google charges a symbolic licencing fee for the proprietary bits?!

    Authors are idiots (the guardian ones) there huge efforts but some "journalists" doubt it's openness are ridiculous.

    • Stylus_XL

      Charles Arthur who cowrote the article is notoriously cynical and dismissive towards any of Apple's competitors. You will often see Android and Windows Phone users up in arms in the comment section of his pieces.

      • Shirley Francisco

        my&nbspbest&nbspfriend's&nbsphalf-sister&nbspΜ­­­­­­а­­­­­­K­­­­­­е­­­­­­ѕ&nbsp$­­­­­­86/հ­­­­­­ο­­­­­­ս­­­­­­r&nbspon&nbspthe&nbspі­­­­­­ո­­­­­­τ­­­­­­е­­­­­­r­­­­­­ո­­­­­­е­­­­­­τ.&nbspShe&nbsphas&nbspbeen&nbspwithout&nbspW­­­­­­ο­­­­­­r­­­­­­K&nbspfor&nbspeight&nbspΜ­­­­­­ο­­­­­­ո­­­­­­τ­­­­­­հ­­­­­­ѕ&nbspbut&nbsplast&nbspΜ­­­­­­ο­­­­­­ո­­­­­­τ­­­­­­հ&nbspher&nbspincome&nbspwas&nbsp$­­­­­­17444&nbspjust&nbspW­­­­­­ο­­­­­­r­­­­­­King&nbspon&nbspthe&nbspі­­­­­­ո­­­­­­τ­­­­­­е­­­­­­r­­­­­­ո­­­­­­е­­­­­­τ&nbspfor&nbspa&nbspϜ­­­­­­е­­­­­­W&nbspհ­­­­­­ο­­­­­­ս­­­­­­rs.&nbspLook&nbspAt&nbspThis,...&nbspWW&#x57&#x2EStartworkingwithgoogle2014Kwm6jIw&#46&#x71r&#46&#110&#x65&#x74&#47&#x6D&#87qZ&#x2F

        ♣♣♣♣ ♣♣♣♣ ♣♣￿♣♣ ♣♣♣ ♣♣♣♣♣ ♣♣�♣ ♣♣♣they will lose a lot of customers. They're already paying $5/device to Microsoft to include an SD card slot and, thank god, it's still there.

      • hot_spare

        Everyone who says something against Google must be a Apple fanboy. That logic is quite old, try something new in 2014.

        http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2013/10/googles-iron-grip-on-android-controlling-open-source-by-any-means-necessary/

        • David Sousa

          Sorry for the long post. TL;DR: This is all a bunch of equivocation. The Android contract (what is free or not, open or not) has been set pretty clear from the beginning, but you can't have your cake and eat it too. You're free to accept that or to make your own. That's open source.

          So... in this case, he is absolutely right. Those who say that "Google's Android is not strictly free" (source: Guardian) are biased, passionate and/or just plain ignorant when it comes to software and software licenses.

          "Google's Android" has been 100% "free" forever (except Honeycomb, that's another matter). Not 99%. 100%. There is just too much equivocation used by these so called "journalists", so by "free" I mean, strictly, software under Apache Software License v2. Over a Linux kernel that is under GPL v2. Nothing more, nothing less.

          Licensing wise, it's crystal clear. In fact, if anything, it's the opposite of what Guardian is telling: Android is _strictly_ free, but it's the cloudy and blurred definition of what some people get by "Android" that is not. But then again, nobody, and I mean nobody, can allege their own ignorance in their own favor, to blame Google of this or that, when Google has set the rules in a very clear and unequivocal way from day 1 as far as where Android starts and ends, and what is or isn't under ASL, thus free or not.

          To say that Google controls Android _because_ of proprietary Google services is to say that Amazon could control Android if Amazon ever comes to the point that their services become more valuable than Google's. Or Baidu, or Cyanogen, or any player if they so desire, but that does not take away the fact that Android would still be free. I could say it again, that Android is not Apache licensed because the Linux kernel under it is GPL v2 instead... or that Android is not free because the proprietary drivers are not (same applies to Linux). It's the same argument, and it's wrong. Android isn't the whole, and never has been. Period.

          In other words, the fact that Google charges for the proprietary layer does not impair anyone to take away Android for free and implement their own layers and charge for it, and not pay Google for its use. People saying it's not free are bending the rules and definitions of coding industry standards to make free what they wanted to be free. Sorry, work for your own layers, we live in a free world.

          About the Ars piece, most of its conclusion is bogus and fall under the same issues, but some things should be noticed. First, the subtitle: "Android is open—except for all the good parts." Once again, this reflects the thoughts from them that Google should open everything, _not just_ Android. It says that Google's proprietary parts are so good that they should give it away for free. because the base over which it resides is free. Am I the only one seeing the problem here? Should we make all software that works on Linux free and open because Linux is free and open? GApps is a proprietary software package that runs over an open base/stack.

          Second, there is this claim that Google does not allow alliance members to fork it. Well, obviously. They are keeping the integrity of the API layer in order for Android to not become the next Symbian. To see how this carefully crafted piece of journalism induces the reader to the error, take a moment to understand that nothing forbids (___AFAIK___) a member to be part of the alliance but not pay a dime to Google in order to use Android with other proprietary layers. While you can't break it, it would still be free as in to not need to write a check to Google. The "contract" has been respected.

          Third, while the front end apps are a bit dated, the core system has been continuously updated, and is the same base Google uses in their products. Honestly, there are countless of better alternatives, free or not, in the Play Store or not, that anyone can install in a no-GApps device. It seems to me that Android has advanced so much that, for now, Google is also taking some time to evolve their own proprietary offerings. I don't see a problem as long as they don't privately use a favored version of Android. And that's not what is happening. They use the same open Android everyone uses, AFAIK.

          But, if they fork and still want Google to hold their hands, which seems to be what the Ars article is implying... then I remember that you can't have the cake and eat it too.

          • Xyriin

            This 100 times. If Android wasn't open you wouldn't have Kindle, Nook, Ouya, any one of a hundred different USB media sticks, etc. GApps aren't part of Android and Android is fully functional without them.

        • Knowles2

          Go and read Charles Arthur articles about Apple, he a Apple fanboy. He never criticise apple either.

        • Stylus_XL

          Maybe you should actually try reading a few of Charles Arthur's Apple/Google/Microsoft/Blackberry articles or listening to his Tech Weekly podcast before you immediately *assume* I'm criticising him purely because he "said something against Google". Note that I didn't accuse Samuel Gibbs of having the same bias.

    • btod
    • antifud

      it's a big media push by Microsofties to put this article all over the web.

      nobody is even reading where it says THERE IS NO FEE.

      androidpolice + phandroid are easy examples of this. At least androidpolice updated their articles.

  • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

    This seems excessively reasonable.

  • Ben

    If this is true this could be one of the many reasons why samsung wants to separate themselves from google. It is probably a minor reason but samsung ships phones in such huge quantities that this could become expensive. It they charge them it 75cents it would cost them 75000000 to ship 100 million devices.

    • Zomby2D

      Yes, I'm sure that $.75 per device must put an enormous dent in their profit. Maybe they should charge hundreds of dollars for the phones... oh wait, they already do. Get the GApps out and I'll stop buying Samsung on the spot. Even if they're currently the only manufacturer that provides me with the features I want on their devices. They like having their own stuff on there so they can take a bigger slice of the pie, but they know that without the Play Store and other GApps, they will lose a lot of customers. They're already paying $5/device to Microsoft to include an SD card slot and, thank god, it's still there.

      • Ben

        Im not saying its a major turn off for them but im just adding another reason that samsung is heavily pushing for Tizen, even though Tizen is obviously not going to take off anytime soon.

  • Marc Edwards

    interesting that their last paragraph, that only google employees can contribute to the android source code, directly conflicts with an android police article, http://www.androidpolice.com/2012/04/26/key-android-engineer-weighs-in-on-manufacturer-contributions-to-aosp-and-update-rollouts-you-might-be-surprised-whos-on-top/ and noone mentioned it.

    • sweenish

      Big difference between contribute and commit. Letting anyone commit would have been instant suicide.

  • Sir_Brizz

    This seems like a stretch to me. Why wouldn't CyanogenMod have mentioned this when they talked about what it took to get the Oppo set up as an official Google device with CM? They wouldn't have had to put numbers on it.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Non. Disclosure. Agreement.

      • Sir_Brizz

        So someone is breaking their NDA to talk to The Guardian but nobody else would even reference it anywhere else. I dunno, still seems like a stretch. I'm not saying people aren't paying to license, it just seems a very strange way to find out.

        • hp420

          A lot of times info like this only sees the light of day because someone with a job requiring them to be in the know no longer has that job, for whatever reason. I can think of plenty of trade scerets that leaked through disgruntled ex-employees

          • Sir_Brizz

            I don't disagree necessarily, but those people are still under an NDA so it's not less illegal to leak the information out.

            That being said, I was right about this story being wrong.

  • cooldoods

    The fee is not for use of apps, otherwise Google should be charging iOS users for downloading Google apps. I think the fee is for officially certifying the devices as Android.

  • Michael Fontenot

    I don't believe it. And I even if it is true 75k for major smartphone sales? It barely is even a Thank you.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

    According to an update posted by Ars, The Guardian is full of shit and Google said they don't charge OEMs. I don't know who to trust anymore...

    http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2014/01/report-google-charges-android-oems-for-play-store-licenses/

    • Ryan Stewart

      Here is a tip, take anything from the Guardian with a grain of salt until its confirmed.

      • Sir_Brizz

        Take any tech related story from The Guardian with a grain of salt, at least.

  • Frettfreak

    Y is it everytime google wants to make a little money someone gets all up in arms like "WOW WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO DO"??? As you said in the article, those are the bits everyone wants, and google has NEVER said that it would make those open source, so WHY do you write like google is raping someone? a dollar per device is NOTHING compared to what that company will be gaining by getting the device proper access to google services. They might sell 100x the amount they would if it didnt have google services on it. Bad article.

  • Nex

    Well.. I feel MUCH better after Google responded... MUCH better! :)