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Forced Unbundling of Google Apps From Android

The European Commission anti-competition ruling against Google that will force it to change its OS by unbundling the Google Play store and native apps could help other phone makers, but could also make the new ‘P’ version of Android’s OS less interesting.

90 Days To Change

The EC ruling, which also imposed an eye-watering $5 billion fine this month, essentially means that Google only has a 90 day period in which to unbundle popular parts of its Android OS so that it no longer receives what the EC sees as an unfair advantage over competitors.

Manufacturers Forced To Bundle

For example, up until now, purchasers of Android phones from any manufacturer have had Google Play store to install its apps by default on their new phone. This is because Google has only enabled phone makers to access the Play store (which is needed for downloading popular apps) if they agreed to use a version of Android that preloads 11 bundled Google apps onto their smartphones.

No Choice

Also, even though phone manufacturers have been able to use Android Open Source Project Android software, this doesn’t have the Google APIs that are needed to link major apps to the Play store. Phone manufacturers have, therefore, been left with no choice but to agree to bundle Google’s native Android apps if they want their customers to have a good experience with their phones.

Real Opportunities For Competitors Now?

It is tempting to think that the ruling will now create many real opportunities for other, smaller phone manufacturers as they can customise the open source architecture and bypass native Google apps.

Some commentators have, however, pointed out that Google’s huge investment over the last decade in pre-loading Android with its most popular apps, and thereby making an Android phone work straight out of the box, is of value to consumers. The likelihood is, therefore, that customers would actually prefer to have the bundled Google apps anyway because they are used the convenience that they offer. This means that the EC’s judgement may have been several years late anyway, manufacturers will continue to need to offer Google services to be competitive and address consumer demand, and the ruling may not be offering any real extra opportunities for competing phone manufacturers in the near future.

The New Android P

The new Android 9.0 P / ‘Pie’ OS is beginning its rollout, firstly for Pixel devices and Essential Phone, and for Android One users later in the year, with all third-party handsets that participated in the Android P beta (Sony Xperia XZ2, Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S, Nokia 7 Plus, Oppo R15 Pro, Vivo X21 and OnePlus 6), receiving the update in the autumn.

The new OS has AI built-in, and there’s a strong focus on a smarter, simpler experience that is tailored to individual user patterns and offers adaptive features e.g. Adaptive Battery and Adaptive Brightness. In order to comply with the EC’s ruling, however, there is speculation that the new official Android OS will simply be released without the Google default apps, but consumers will simply seek them out and install them anyway.
Bad For Consumers?

Some critics of the EC ruling have also pointed out the possibility of some bad unintended consequences for consumers such as greater app inconsistency, and increases in hardware costs.

Google Games Woes

It appears that Google will also be missing out on a slice of the games world profits through Google Play. It has been reported that Epic Games, the makers of the popular multiplayer game Fortnite, will be bypassing Google Play and offer the game directly to hitherto overlooked Android, because it’s unhappy with the 30% slice of the profits Google would take through Google Play. Instead, Fortnite for Android will be made available directly on the Epic website, thereby cutting out the Google middle-man.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The idea of a fair playing field is obviously attractive to businesses, particularly smaller businesses that may also be later into a market. Clearly, the EC ruling shows that things do appear to have been stacked in Google’s favour in the Android market for some time, but many would argue that the ruling has come too late, and that consumers may now not actually benefit from the decision. It is, however important that powerful tech giants have to answer to some authority greater than their own in the interests of choice and fair competition.

Google has appealed, and it remains to be seen how the EC decision and what changes Google makes will affect the Android OS and the dynamics of the marketplace.