Some mobile and tablet manufacturers are being charged six-figure fees by third party testing facilities for a license to use Gmail, Google Play and other parts of Google’s mobile services, the Guardian has learned.
The fees, which can range from $40,000 to $75,000, are part of a largely hidden production process for the hundreds of large and small manufacturers in the mobile device industry.
The Android mobile operating system is free for consumers and for manufacturers to install, but manufacturers need a licence to install Gmail, Google Maps and the Google Play store – collectively called Google Mobile Services (GMS).
Manufacturers can be refused a licence if they do not meet Google’s requirements. Google does not charge for a GMS licence, but any company producing an Android device will need a certificate from an authorized testing facility in order to apply for the licence. That often incurs fees.
One source told the Guardian that the fee varies and is negotiated on a case-by-case basis, with one example costing $40,000 for a batch of at least 30,000 devices. A separate source said that in another deal, a testing facility quoted $75,000 to test 100,000 devices.
Google said it had no comment on GMS licensing.
A Welsh distributor, KMS Components, was put out of business in January after the retailer Argos withheld £3.2m because of a GMS licensing dispute.
Google-approved, licensed manufacturers include those making their own devices, such as Samsung, and original device manufacturers Foxconn and Archos. Paid-testing is also offered by a range other non-approved companies.
“Installing Google play without a licence is illegal,” said one source in the Android developer community, who did not want to be named. “Smaller OEMs [device manufacturers] don’t register on Google’s radar, and Google tends to turn a blind eye. Retailers get pressured by legal OEMs to make sure illegal installs of GMS are weeded out. It’s almost like crowdsourcing.”
In August 2010, Augen Electronics of Florida removed the $150 tablet it was selling through US retail store Kmart because unlicensed GMS software was not removed before the devices went on sale. The company later closed down.
For consumers, meanwhile, all Google mobile services are free to use, and individuals can also legally download and install the full suite of apps to their own device.
The original article was taken down pending investigation, on 28 January 2014. The article was launched in error before editorial processes had been completed and contained errors for which we apologize. The story said that Google charges Android device makers a license fee for Google mobile applications. This is wrong. In addition the article stated in reference to a licence fee that: “It is a lot of money, but you can’t see it anywhere [in Google's accounts].” This is also incorrect.