The Android OS, as we know it, is free and unlike the more totalitarian iOS, is an open-source platform where developers have the freedom to create apps or services of their choice. From a user’s perspective it seems very easy for a manufacturer to develop an Android device as the OS is there for anyone to use. But in reality, things are not as easy or “free” as they seem.
The Android OS in itself may indeed be free, but none of the apps under Google’s suite of services are free, The Guardian reports. Apps like Gmail, Hangouts, Maps and YouTube among others are all a part of a license called “Google Mobile Service (GMS).” A manufacturer planning on developing a smartphone/smartphones running on Android first needs to buy the license from Google. It is also illegal for a company to offer the Play Store on their smartphones without the license.
In terms of revenues, quite similar to how Microsoft charges OEMs to use Windows or Windows Phones, Google charges companies for this license on a per-device basis. In other words, a company aiming on shipping 100,000 units will need to pay around 75 cents for each device, or $75,000 in total, the report reveals. According to recent numbers, Google is said to sell around a million GMS licenses every day.
The report further adds that the process of acquiring a license is not as easy as it sounds. There is also no set of rules or a pre-determined process and the whole activating of a GMS license is at Google’s discretion. So essentially, Google decides whom to give the license and whom not to.
This and the fact that the source code for the entire OS is available online on Google’s servers has resulted in low-level OEMs who miss out on the license to illegally offer the Play Store on their devices. Since this is very small percentage of companies, Google without the adequate manpower, often turns a blind eye.