Google to charge for apps on Android phones in Europe

Woman takes selfie with the Google Android mascot

Android smartphone makers will have increased flexibility to distribute search and browser apps from Google's rivals such as Microsoft, Opera Ltd and Mozilla to develop devices with the operating system heavily customized.

Google will have to allow smartphone manufacturers to ship Android devices in the EU without Google Chrome preinstalled, as a result of the massive Euro 4.34 billion fine imposed on the company by European Commission antitrust regulators in July this year.

Previously, gadget makers using Android would need to fully commit to Google's app and service ecosystem and weren't allowed to create phones that would run other software if they had agreed to use Android. The crux of the EC's decision earlier this year was its opinion that Google was taking advantage of its position as a dominant operating system to be unfriendly to companies making Android devices. In another major change, per CNBC, Google will also end restrictions on phone makers selling forked versions of Android. Android itself will remain free, as will Chrome as it is bundled with the Google Search app, but everything else will be chargeable. But the search giant won't force phone makers to use its search engine over rival services if they only want access to the Google apps now synonymous with Android.

"Since the pre-installation of Google Search and Chrome together with our other apps helped us fund the development and free distribution of Android, we will introduce a new paid licensing agreement for smartphones and tablets shipped into the EEA", wrote executive Hiroshi Lockheimer. In addition, Google was fined a huge $5 billion for antitrust violations.

Its new measures will see Android manufacturers build "forked" versions of their devices for European markets while still being able to use Google's applications. Instead, they can license the Play Store, Chrome and search, and other mobile apps separately. The options will become available on October 29, 2018, for all new smartphones and tablets launched in the EEA.

Presently, it's unclear if every Android smartphone sold within Europe will require a license fee, or if the move will only apply to European companies.

This could have the rather nasty knock-on effect of hardware makers passing on the cost of forking out for a license on to consumers in the way of hiked up more-expensive smartphones phones. As well as the penalty, the commission gave Google 90 days to make amends, and those three months are now virtually up, hence these latest concessions.

The way OEMs ship Android on devices in Europe will be quite different going forward, as Google explains in a new blog post.

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