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.