I don't know how common "forked" versions are for the phones but you see them for cheap-cheap tablets all the time, they sell you some piece of junk for $25 but they get their money back when the user has to download tons of proprietary apps to make it do anything useful, and NOTHING in their "special" store is cheap. Clearly Google would want to distance themselves as far as they can from any outfit that wants to charge money for apps that probably have little or no SW QC, for all Google knows the forked OS ITSELF may be garbage. I think I've heard these vendors are supposed to indicate that these are "non-AOSP" builds but how much does the end-user know about the poor value and risk they would be taking in purchasing something like this? Obviously not much, these devices MUST be selling because you see ads everywhere. I can hardly blame Google for trying to put SOME kinds of constraints in their contracts lest the consumer community starts to conflate the poor SW in these situations with what they would have experienced in the "legit" Android community. Oh and as if those weren't enough reasons not to buy this cheap junk, the Android "base" underneath this mess generally can't be upgraded when a new version of the AOSP build comes out (for several reasons some of which are obvious), so not only are you buying avoidable bugs, they're also permanent...
Rick, I think you might be making a mountain out of Google's molehill here. While Microsoft forced OEMs to use THEIR browser, internet explorer, Google isn't forcing anything on the OEMs except the method by which they get to the Google ecosystem. They are also giving some leeway in that the OEM can bury their apps one level down or one screen over from the home page. Considering the comsumer's desire to purchase apps AND the ability to move icons at will, this seems like a convience or at the most, a non-issue.
As to the point of fracturing Android by modifying it, why doesn't that make sense from a business standpoint? Android (the OS) would get a black eye when "custom" jellybean that I created didn't work with apps from the Google store that Google said were compatible. The customer wouldn't blame me, they would blame Google and their "stupid Android" OS, and move more folks to a platform that "Just Works".
It is a bit of a misnomer to refer to Android as Open Source when it has such restricitons on it. Nevertheless, it is open enough for the partners to add their own layer on top of it and give it their own look and feel. And if that makes them profitable, there shouldn't be too many complaints about Google's terms. Otherwise, go find another mobile OS if you like :)
My understanding is that they must use these guidelines only if they choose to preinstall any Google Apps. Amazon uses its forked version without any of these issues. There is a fine line that Google must ride here. Controlling quality while encouraging diversity through the manufactures.
I think that it's more of a safety net for google. We've all seen where OEMs can take android devices, and imo, to keep the experience realitively similar from phone to phone is hard without rules. Google want people to enjoy android, not OEMs making similar apps but that have worse experiences and further fragment the android ecosystem. Whilst android is "open" I think it's in googles right to make sure the name doesn't get burned. just my two cents