Google documents reveal stipulations on Android phone makers accessing Google services

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) distributes its Android mobile software for free as an open-source project, but new documents show that there are strings attached to OEMs that want to use key Google services as part of their Android devices. The documents reveal that Google has required handset makers to make Google Search the device's default search engine, have a series of apps preinstalled and even place Google apps in certain locations on the device.

The documents, which were reported by the Wall Street Journal, were admitted as exhibits during a 2012 patent trial between Google and Oracle. However, Harvard Business School Associate Professor Ben Edelman recently published the documents on his blog. Edelman is a paid consultant for Google rival Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).

It has long been assumed that Android device makers who want to use Google's services--such Search, Maps, YouTube and the Google Play store--need to play by Google's rules and use Google Search, where Google make most of its money from advertising. However, the documents reveal the nature of the agreements.

To get access to Google's apps and services, OEMs must sign a so-called "Mobile Application Distribution Agreement" with Google. The agreements detailed in the documents, with Samsung Electronics and HTC, cover 2011 and 2012. According to the Journal, Google still uses similar agreements, but it's not clear if current versions include the same conditions.

The documents state that devices may only be distributed if all the specified Google apps are pre-installed, that Google Search be made default search provider, and that Search and the Play Store icons appear "immediately adjacent" to the home screen. Other Google apps must appear no more than one screen swipe away.

Google declined to comment, according to the Journal.

The European Commission in 2013 started examining whether Google's Android distribution practices breached antitrust rules. Google has settled with the Commission on a deal involving its search practices but the probe into Android is continuing.

"Consider the impact on a phone manufacturer that seeks to substitute an offering that competes with a Google app. For example, a phone manufacturer might conclude that some non-Google service is preferable to one of the listed Google Applications--perhaps faster, easier to use, or more protective of user privacy," Edelman wrote. "Alternatively, a phone manufacturer might conclude that its users care more about a lower price than about preinstalled Google apps. Such a manufacturer might be willing to install an app from some other search engine, location provider, or other developer in exchange for a payment, which would be partially shared with consumers via a lower selling price for the phone. Google's MADA restrictions disallow any such configuration if the phone is to include any of the listed Google apps."

Some companies choose to work around Google's Android stipulations by modifying Android. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) uses its own version of Android in its Kindle Fire tablets and does not use Google Search or other Google services like Google Play. Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is reportedly considering a similar approach for a device codenamed "Normandy" that it may soon release.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this separate WSJ article (sub. req.)
 -see this Ben Edelman blog post
- see this FOSS Patents post
- see this IDC release

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