Here’s the truth about Android’s so-called “open-ness”. If a phone manufacturer using Android wants to pre-install say, Google Play, as the app store (or any other Google app) on their devices, they have to:

  • pre-install all Google applications on each device.
  • agree to give prominent placement to all Google applications in the phone’s user interface.
  • set Google Search “as the default search provider for all Web search access points.”

These are all listed as explicit requirements in the Mobile Application Distribution Agreement (MADA) that manufacturers have to sign if they want access to even a single Google app for Android. For a full explanation of MADA’s requirements and how it hurts consumers, read this brilliant piece by Benjamin Edelman.

Manufacturers may perceive that Bing Search, Duckduckgo, Yahoo Search, and others are reasonable substitutes to Google Search. Manufacturers may perceive that Bing Maps, Mapquest, Yahoo Maps, and others are reasonable substitutes to Google Maps. But it is not clear what other app store a manufacturer could preinstall onto a smartphone in order to offer a comprehensive set of apps.

To be successful, any mobile operating system needs a thriving app ecosystem. Android’s default app ecosystem is now owned and controlled by Google. It comes only as part of an all-or-nothing package that includes all Android apps developed by Google, whether users want them or not. If this doesn’t fly in the face of competition and “open-ness”, I don’t know what does.

All this might still be acceptable if Google were clear about it’s motives. After all, iOS is not open at all – Apple decides which apps will be available to iOS users and which won’t. But at least Apple has never made any ridiculous claims of “open-ness”. Google is the exact opposite. Not only does it claim that Android is “open” and “open source”, it keeps these MADA requirements secret from end users and the general public – thus basking in a false aura of “open-ness”. Manufacturers are expressly prohibited from disclosing any of MADA’s provisions.

What’s worse, Edelman continues to disclose how in statements made in public forums, Google executives have made statements that run contrary to the requirements of MADA. For example, when asked in a 2011 Senate hearing whether Google demanded that manufacturers make Google the default search engine as a condition of using Android, Google’s Chairman Eric Schmidt responded that:

Google does not demand that smartphone manufacturers make Google the default search engine as a condition of using the Android operating system. …

Of course it doesn’t. It only demands that manufacturers make Google the default search engine if they want to pre-install Google Play, which used to be the “Android Market”, and which users still think is the default app ecosystem and content distribution platform of Android. What are the chances that a major manufacturer can make a new Android device successful without including Google Play on it?

More than a decade ago, Microsoft’s practice of bundling the Internet Explorer browser with Windows led to an antitrust lawsuit against it. And here we have Google bundling not one, but all of their apps together, and then forcing manufacturers to pre-install all of them on devices if they want even the default app ecosystem. And all this for an operating system that Google professes to be “open” — one that, unlike Windows, it does not own or sell to manufacturers.