Google cuts Android app pre-installation requirements

Google reduced the number of apps that smartphone makers must pre-install on Android devices in order to gain access to the company's app store by four, in a move that could appease European Commission (EC) regulators.

The U.S. company now requires manufacturers to pre-install 11 apps in order to qualify for Google Play access, an unnamed source told the Wall Street Journal. While the insider gave no reason for the reduction, the Journal reported that the four apps were not among the best sellers in the app store.

Another potential reason is that the move may address the concerns of EC anti-trust regulators, who in April opened an investigation into whether Google requires or incentivises smartphone manufacturers to pre-install its own applications and services on Android smartphones. At the time, the EC said it had opened the formal investigation after receiving two complaints and conducting an initial probe under its own initiative.

Although Android is an open source operating system (OS) that can be used by any device maker, the Journal noted that those manufacturers are required to install apps chosen by Google in order to gain access to key features and services including Gmail, the company's email service, Google Maps and the company's broader app store.

The EC is concerned the requirement to pre-install apps has hindered development of, and access to, rival applications. It is also investigating whether Google has prevented smartphone makers from modifying Android to avoid competition in the operating system and mobile apps markets.

At the time, Google responded by noting that its partner agreements to use Android are voluntary, stating that "you can use Android without Google", but also talking up the benefits of full partnerships, including anti-fragmentation agreements that ensure apps work across a wide variety of Android devices, and distribution deals that "make sure that people get a great 'out of the box' experience with useful apps right there on the home screen".

Research company Gartner last week revealed Android remained the world's largest OS during the second quarter with global sales of 271 million units compared to 243 million in the second quarter of 2014.

However, the OS lost market share year-on-year, falling from 83.8 per cent in Q214 to 82.2 per cent in the recent quarter.

For more:
- see this Wall Street Journal report
- view the EC's investigation announcement
- read Google's response to the EC probe.

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