SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Is Google playing fair in its Android agreements? That's what I'd like to hear from the community of smartphone and tablet makers.
A leaked copy of a 2011 Android agreement between Google and HTC raises questions about the amount of control Google exercises over OEM handsets. The Google Mobile Application Distribution Agreement forbids OEMs from making changes to Android and enforces exactly where key Google applications appear on a handset.
The document appears to be part of the discovery not previously made public from the Oracle vs. Google patent infringement suit. It was leaked by Ben Edelman, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School.
Specifically, section 3.4 of the document states:
Unless otherwise approved by Google in writing: 1) Company will preload all Google Applications approved in the applicable Territory or Territories on each Device; (2) Google Phone-top Search and the Android Market Client Icon must be placed at least on the panel immediately adjacent to the Default Home Screen; (3) all other Google Applications will be placed no more than one level below the Phone Top; and (4) Google Phone-top Search must be set as the default search provider for all Web search access points on the Device. Notwithstanding the foregoing, there are no placement requirements for Optional Google Applications.
Section 2.2 forbids making changes to Android:
The Company shall not or allow any third party to take any actions that may cause or result in the fragmentation of Android including but not limited to the distribution by Company of a software development kit (SDK) derived from Android or derived from Android compatible devices and company shall not assist or encourage any third party to distribute a software development kit (SDK) derived from Android Compatible Devices.
In section 4.2 Google requires OEMs provide "a written report of the total number of devices distributed with a preloaded version of a Google Application during such calendar month (by Google Application, Territory sand Device model within each Territory.)"
In addition, Google requires "each Device must become an Android Compatible Device at least 30 days prior to the Final Embed Date of the Device. The final software build on Devices must pass the Compatibility Test Suite prior to Launch."
These requirements seem overly restrictive to me. They remind me of the contracts Intel and Microsoft used in the heyday of the Wintel monopoly. Back then, Microsoft tried to force OEMs to make its Internet Explorer the default and only browser on PC desktops. Microsoft and Intel also created marketing funds that essentially paid OEMs if they used fewer or no competing operating systems or processors in their products.
The Wintel giants came under antitrust scrutiny for their practices. The European Union is investigating Google's practices with Android now. Android has become by far the dominant operating system in mobile devices. It is described as an open-source alternative to Apple's iOS. But this document suggests there are some real questions to be answered about how Google is managing its software stack.
I've reached out to Google for its response. I'd also like to hear from smartphone and tablet makers, too.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times