A new report by The Guardian has some potentially disruptive statements about Android. In the article, anonymous sources claim that Google charges various amounts to license “Google Mobile Services”, and that amount depends on just who it is. Other evidence shows that while “open”, Android itself may also be a source of income for Google.
Citing an anonymous source — or sources — in the “Android device community”, The Guardian claims that Google is charging at least one OEM about $0.75 per device, as a shipment of 100,000 units was said to cost one OEM about $75,000. If that can be looked to as a median price for GMS favor, it’s a far cry from Microsoft’s reported $15 per device fee, but also not in the spirit of “open source”. It's widely believed, and touted as such, that Android is free to use. While that may still be the case, there seem to be many necessary add-ons for true compatibility.
“It is a lot of money they make, but you can’t see it anywhere [in Google’s accounts] because that would tarnish their ‘Android open-source’ karma” a source said. A source (we’re not clear if it’s the same source or not) also said “Deals are done on an individual basis and are very opaque”. That means it could be different across the board, and could potentially be a strong-arm tactic for Google in keeping partners in line. Though Amazon famously took Android and made it their own, they also have a marketplace to use, and have no actual need for the Play Store. Android, for them, is simply a support system for their own product.
Dan Morrill of Google was quoted in a 2011 lawsuit with Skyhook (via internal documents) that it’s “obvious to the OEMs that we are using [GMS] compatibility as a club to make them do what we want.” Motorola, independent from Google at the time, told Skyhook that Android devices are “approved essentially at Google’s discretion”. Said charges for Android GMS compatibility are also said to be loosely based on, well, nothing.
"Installing Google Play without a GMS licence is illegal,” the source said. They went on to note that they (Google) “don’t have the internal manpower to police it properly. It’s a volume game. Big OEMs [device manufacturers] pay. Smaller OEMs don’t register in Google’s radar, and they [Google] tend to turn a blind eye. Retailers get pressured by legal OEMs to make sure illegal installs of GMS are weeded out. It’s almost like crowdsourcing.”
This is all very damning evidence that Google may not be as forthright about Android as previously thought. If true, they’re charging OEMs to license GMS, taking a bite from each Play Store transaction, charging Developers to put their wares on the Play Store, and continue to push ads to us in various ways. We’ve reached out to Google for comment, and will update you if/when we hear back.
Update: Google declined to comment specifically, but told us that it does not charge licensing fees for Google Mobile services.