You might see a few changes coming to the way you use Android smartphones and Google apps in the next three months.
Google has been fined a record $US5 billion (4.3 billion euros/£3.8 billion) by Europe’s competition watchdog for abusing its dominant Android mobile operating system to cement the popularity of Google apps and services.
Specifically, those abuses include:
– Requiring “manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google’s app store (the Play Store)”
– Paying “certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices”
– Preventing “manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android that were not approved by Google (so-called “Android forks”)”
“These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” the EU Commissions said in its press release.
The big question on everyone’s mind: How will the fine and ordered changes affect your current or future Android phone? The company is planning to appeal the EU Commission’s ruling, so there’s still the chance the ruling is reversed if Google wins the appeal. But assuming the EU Commission’s ruling stands, let’s take a look at the changes Google needs to make to the Android operating system.
Here’s how you can expect Android to change if Google makes the changes:
Some Android phones might not include pre-installed versions of Google’s Chrome web browser and Google Search apps, which includes Google’s Assistant voice-controlled AI.
Currently, Android smartphone makers need to include Chrome and Google Search to offer their customers access to the Google Play Store and its library of apps that millions of people use. Without access to the Play Store, an Android smartphone is destined to fail due to a lack of apps, as mobile app developers usually only make apps for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.
After 90 days, Android phones may no longer come with Google Chrome or Google Search should an Android smartphone maker not wish to include them. Instead, smartphone makers can exclusively pre-install their own web browsers and search apps, without needing to include Google’s Chrome or Search apps.
This might not affect anyone who usually uses whatever default browser is on their smartphone, like Samsung’s Internet app.But anyone who would actively want to use Google Chrome and Google Search on an Android smartphone that doesn’t come pre-installed with those apps would need to find them in the Google Play Store and install them manually.
Smartphone makers could still include Chrome and Google Search, but they wouldn’t be bound to do so. Many Android smartphone makers already offer their own web browsers as the default browser, but they also include Google’s Chrome as an option, often hidden within a smartphone’s app library.
Using Chrome has several benefits if you use other Google products and apps, as they can be synchronised together for ease of use and automation. Google also gets more ad revenue from Chrome users.
As for Google Search, Android users wouldn’t necessarily have built-in native access to things like Google Assistant artificial intelligence (AI) voice assistant or the Google Search bar that often comes pre-installed on an Android phone’s home screen. Google Assistant is currently one of the company’s highest priorities, as AI is seen as the next frontier in tech.
Specifically, omitting Google Search would give other voice-activated assistants, such as Samsung’s Bixby AI assistant, a higher chance of being used over Google’s Assistant.
Non-Google search apps and AI assistants.
Even if Google wanted to pay a smartphone maker to exclusively feature Google Search – and thus Google Assistant – it wouldn’t be able to do so anymore, as it has been deemed “illegal” by the EU Commission. As a result, you might not see Google Search and Google Assistant pre-installed on on Android smartphones from certain companies.
Instead, you might find a smartphone maker’s own search app, or a third-party search app, pre-loaded onto an Android smartphone. The same thing goes for a smartphone maker’s own or third-party AI voice assistant.
More smartphones that come with different operating systems…that are still based on Android
We could see more smartphones running on different operating systems. Those different operating systems could still be based on Android, but they could look and work differently, and they were never popular as they weren’t approved by Google in the past.
Without Google’s approval, these Android-based operating systems couldn’t have native access to the Google Play Store. As I mentioned earlier, an Android phone without access to the Play Store is destined to failure. Think back to Amazon’s Fire Phone, which ran the Android-based Fire OS. Fire OS on the Fire Phone wasn’t approved by Google, and it didn’t come with native access to the Google Play Store. Lack of apps, among several other significant reasons, led to the demise and short lifetime of the Fire Phone.
With the EU Commission’s demands, those Android-based operating system that are currently not approved by Google would gain access to the Google Play Store’s apps.
So, we could see Samsung, LG, and any other Android smartphone makers’ phones running on different Android-based operating systems, like Amazon’s Fire OS, for example.
At the end of the day, a smartphone running a significantly different version Android operating system would still, essentially, be an Android phone. It will still have access to Google’s Play Store and its Android apps, which is arguably one of the most important factors for an Android phone’s success.
Technically, Google would only need to make these changes in the EU, but it could change Android in the rest of the world.
The EU Commission’s demands wouldn’t force Google to change Android outside the EU’s borders. So, technically, Google can keep business as usual outside the EU.
With that said, it would need to make a separate EU version of its Android operating system with the changes in place. That could result in a disorganized mess for Google and Android, and potentially exacerbate the problematic, fragmented nature of Android ecosystem.
The Android ecosystem is currently fragmented, which means that most Android phones in existence are running several different – and older – versions of the Android operating system. Fragmentation leads to security issues, as well as obstacles for Android app developers. Rolling out a separate EU version of the Android operating system could make its fragmentation problem even worse.
Google plans to appeal the EU Commission’s ruling, but since there’s no timeframe on when that appeal is successful, you could see these changes arriving on Android phones sooner rather than later.
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