A document pertaining to Google’s licensing of its apps was leaked today, giving insight to what many have speculated was going on for quite some time. The document comes to us via someone who serves as a consultant, and admittedly does so for companies that compete with Google. Though many will cast doubt on his credentials and aim here, the document speaks for itself.


The document is called the Mobile Application Distribution Agreement, or MADA. What we really find is a bit of a strong-arm tactic from Google, but one that is likely to keep their apps and curated ecosystem safeguarded. The agreement asks that OEMs take an all-or-nothing approach to Google apps, essentially forcing them to take Google apps as a package rather than pick and choose which will be on the device. Google also controls which countries the apps are shipped to, how they’re updated (an OEM can not interfere with updates of Google apps), as well as distribution methods. Google apps cannot be altered in any way, either. Though it initially strikes us as a company looking to protect their apps, it gets a bit more slippery from there.

Not only do OEMs have to load all Google apps onto their handsets if they want to distribute an Android device, but Google also dictates just where they go. The search bar must be on one of the home screens, and no more than one swipe away from the main screen. Apps must be “no more than one level below the Phone Top”, where Phone Top refers to the main home screen — so the app drawer is fine. What that means is that an OEM couldn’t create a partition to keep Google apps in. They can keep them in a folder within the app drawer, which we’ve seen in the LG G Flex recently.

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Also of note is that Google demands their search be the default, as well as their location services. That was likely the rub with Skyhook, which is really where the interest in MADA originates. The document in question is from 2011, but was admitted in open court, without redaction. So far we’ve got Google demanding their apps be on an Android device, and even telling OEMs where to stick them. If that weren’t odd enough, the subtle nuances might be.

Google requires that anyone who distributes an Android handset under their rigorous guidelines submit monthly sales data, which shows device sales in a regional breakdown. The MADA agreement states the figures must be parsed out “by Google Application, Territory and Device model within each Territory”. This means Google knows exactly how many of each device is sold, and where.

The agreement goes on to state the “Company and Google shall each retain any and all revenue generated from provision of their respective products or services”. In a nutshell, that means an OEM has absolutely zero leg to stand on when it comes to revenue sharing. There will be no sharing in ad revenue, Play Store sales, or any kind of in-app purchasing that may happen.

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Further complicating the matter is Google’s insistence that an OEM submit four devices per model for approval. Without the blessing of Mountain View, the device cannot be launched with Google’s blessing. Furthermore, Google restricts any OEM from ‘forking’ Android, noting in the MADA “any actions that may cause or result in the fragmentation of Android” are not permissible.

The MADA is good for two years, though the terms are ongoing and non-negotiable. If an OEM wants to stop selling Google-approved devices, they can at the end of the agreement, or renegotiate if there is a change in ownership. All tolled, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher, considering the perception of Android being an open platform. Then again, it doesn’t mean it’s not.

Let’s keep in mind this has to do with Google-approved handsets, which carry their apps and Play Store functionality. Android — on a basic level — is still free, open, and ready for use. Amazon famously took Android and made it their own, a conduit for media consumption. They don’t have any Google apps (natively), and don’t use the Play Store. The Kindle is not a Google-approved device — by design.

This agreement is also voluntary. There is nothing forcing an OEM to sign it, but it does pigeonhole them a bit. It’s a “with us or against us” proposition. An OEM could do their own thing, but is likely better served agreeing to utilize Google’s  apps and storefront.

Source: Ben Edelman