Google’s secret world of Android’s “open-source”

The idea that Google’s Android mobile software is both “free” and open-source is so often repeated that it is virtually an article of faith online. There’s only one problem: neither is strictly true.

To get the key apps, a manufacturer needs a “Google Mobile Services” (GMS) licence.

Without them, a device has only minimal functionality.

“obvious to the OEMs that we are using [GMS] compatibility as a club to make them do what we want.”

had to take the matter up with a senior Google vice-president to get the GMS licensing approved.

Only… Google can make changes that will become part of the future direction of the software. Device manufacturers who want to get the upcoming version of Android have to wait for it to become available from Google’s servers.

Google was being intentionally vague about the fact that it receives a license payment for every device that runs Android with its services. “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,”

via How Google controls Android’s open-source software.

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