Android 4.4 may be coming to Developers with some curious strings attached. According to a few reports, Android is free to use, but Chrome now requires licensing. The software ships without Chrome for those who haven’t yet licensed it from Google, leaving them to find their own browser, or create one from near scratch.

Of course, they could simply license Chrome (our preference), but this scenario begs a question about control. Chrome, like any other Google App, requires hardware partners and Developers to license it from Google. The interesting part is that Chrome is now the default browser for Android, so it simply ships with nothing in the way of a web interface. There is an older version of the terrible WebView on the Android Developers site, but that dates back to the Gingerbread days.

The choice to leave Chrome out of Android 4.4 is a curious one, though. It opens the door for other browsers, like Firefox or Opera, to be preloaded. It also opens the door for those browsers to grow their ecosystem by virtue. As users, we can still download Chrome from the Play Store, but be honest: would you even consider a device that didn’t have all the Google stuff preloaded, or had other stuff you couldn’t remove? We probably wouldn’t. If Chrome isn’t on there, it probably means none of the other services are, either.

The move also seems like Google taking a bit more control of Android, leveraging their popular services against compliance. Unlike Android, Chrome isn’t totally open source. Chromium, the source code for Chrome is, but the final build is not. Like Maps or Gmail, Chrome is a Google product, and meant to be licensed. Thinking of Android without Chrome is odd, just as considering Android without Maps is. It’s Google’s world, though — we’re just living in it.

  • Curious why Google did this, I thought they wanted people to use Chrome?

    • Héctor

      Chrome is licensed because they don’t want to publish the source code. There’s no other way for AOSP to have an app but to add the sources to the project repositories.

  • Frettfreak

    Why is this even an issue? As long as any device has access to the play store you download it from there. A way for them to simplify their code, and get rid bloat that can be downloaded and managed from a better platform.

    • boonesimpson

      except not all android devices have play store access.

      Kindles, Nooks (initially), android watches like the Omate that don’t meet CTD standards, tv sticks, ouya’s…the list goes on.
      These devices do not have play store access without developers hacking on the device to make it so and even then the legality is a bit hazy, even if Google turns a blind eye.

      • Frettfreak

        How is that Googles fault? These devices CHOSE not to go through whatever certification needs to happen to have access to the store. Mostly because their intent is to create their own eco system. Again, not googles fault. If google wants to entice more oems to get certified access to the play store i say GREAT! that is a REQUIREMENT for me to buy a device personally, except the kindle fire i bought and deeply regret.

      • boonesimpson

        I agree that play store is important, but since Android is meant to be an open platform removing KEY features from the AOSP is counter intuitive to that goal.

  • Héctor

    The WebView in KitKat is based on latest Chromium code, just lacks UI. And, AFAIK, the old AOSP browser shouldn’t be too hard to fix and get it working.

  • gmaninvan

    I would imagine this is a free license. This probably has more to do with placement on the default home screen