All posts in “Android”

Google’s Play Store will no longer be free to Android phone makers in Europe

Android is in for big policy changes in Europe.
Android is in for big policy changes in Europe.

Image: Getty Images/justin sullivan

Months after being hit with a record-setting $5 billion fine from the EU, Google is making major changes to its policies in Europe.

For the first time in its history, Google will charge Android phone makers that want to sell devices with the Google Play Store and other apps pre-installed. 

Under the new European rules, detailed by Google’s senior vice president of platforms Hiroshi Lockheimer, Android phone makers that want to sell devices with Google services pre-installed in Europe will need to pay a licensing fee to Google. 

This includes the Play Store and other apps (like Gmail and YouTube) but does not include Google Search or Chrome, both of which will remain available to OEMs for free. 

Additionally, Google will, for the first time, allow Android phone makers to ship devices with the Play Store pre-installed even if they are running “forked” versions of Android (custom versions of Android developed independently of Google). These variations of Android have long been popular outside of the U.S., but Google hasn’t typically allowed its services to ship on these “unofficial” variants, with Amazon’s FireOS being a notable exception. 

The changes come after European regulators fined Google more than $5 billion for antitrust violations related to Android. At issue was Google’s practice of requiring Android phone makers to pre-install Google Search, Chrome, and other services on handsets in return for being able to use the Android operating system for free. Regulators said this gave Google an unfair advantage over competitors.

In his statement, Lockheimer emphasized that Google remains committed to keeping Android “free and open source,” despite the new changes, and noted that the company is still appealing the E.U.’s  decision. 

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Google tweaks Android licensing terms in Europe to allow Google app unbundling — for a fee

Google has announced changes to the licensing model for its Android mobile operating system in Europe,  including introducing a fee for licensing some of its own brand apps, saying it’s doing so to comply with a major European antitrust ruling this summer.

In July the region’s antitrust regulators hit Google with a recordbreaking $5BN fine for violations pertaining to Android, finding the company had abused the dominance of the platform by requiring manufacturers pre-install other Google apps in order to license its popular Play app store. 

Regulators also found Google had made payments to manufacturers and mobile network operators in exchange for exclusively pre-installing Google Search on their devices, and used Play store licensing to prevent manufacturers from selling devices based on Android forks.

Google disputes the Commission’s findings, and last week filed its appeal — a legal process that could take years. But in the meanwhile it’s making changes to how it licenses Android in Europe to avoid the risk of additional penalties heaped on top of the antitrust fine.

Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s senior vice president of platforms & ecosystems, revealed the new licensing options in a blog post published today.

Under updated “compatibility agreements”, he writes that mobile device makers will be able to build and sell Android devices intended for the European Economic Area (EEA) both with and without Google mobile apps preloaded — something Google’s same ‘compatibility’ contracts restricted them from doing before, when it was strictly either/or (either you made Android forks, or you made Android devices with Google apps — not both).

“Going forward, Android partners wishing to distribute Google apps may also build non-compatible, or forked, smartphones and tablets for the European Economic Area (EEA),” confirms Lockheimer.

However the company is also changing how it licenses the full Android bundle — which previously required OEMs to load devices with the Google mobile application suite, Google Search and the Chrome browser in order to be able to offer the popular Play Store — by introducing fees for OEMs wanting to pre-load a subset of those same apps under “a new paid licensing agreement for smartphones and tablets shipped into the EEA”.

Though Google stresses there will be no charge for using the Android platform itself. (So a pure fork without any Google services preloaded still wouldn’t require a fee.)

Google also appears to be splitting out Google Search and Chrome from the rest of the Google apps in its mobile suite (which traditionally means stuff like YouTube, the Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps, although Lockheimer’s blog post does not make it clear which exact apps he’s talking about) — letting OEMs selectively unbundle some Google apps, albeit potentially for a fee, depending on the apps in question.

“[D]evice manufacturers will be able to license the Google mobile application suite separately from the Google Search App or the Chrome browser,” is what Lockheimer unilluminatingly writes.

Perhaps Google wants future unbundled Android forks to still be able to have Google Search or Chrome, even if they don’t have the Play store, but it’s really not at all clear which configurations of Google apps will be permitted under the new licensing terms, and which won’t.

“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. Android will remain free and open source,” Lockheimer adds, without specifying what the fees will be either. 

“We’ll also offer new commercial agreements to partners for the non-exclusive pre-installation and placement of Google Search and Chrome. As before, competing apps may be pre-installed alongside ours,” he continues to complete his trio of poorly explained licensing changes.

We’ve asked Google to clarify the various permitted and not permitted app configurations, as well as which apps will require a fee (and which won’t), and how much the fees will be, and will update this post with any response.

The devil in all those details should become clear soon though, as Google says the new licensing options will come into effect on October 29 for all new (Android based) smartphones and tablets launched in the EEA.

Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL review: Android’s finest

While I care more about real-life usage, benchmarks matter to a certain degree. Running synthetic benchmark tests such as the popular Geekbench 4 provides good insight on where the Pixel 3’s stand in comparison to other phones, the value they offer, and the runway they might have as they get updated with software.

Shocking even me, I learned the smaller Pixel 3 is actually more powerful than the 3 XL as far as CPU benchmarks with Geekbench 4 goes.

Running three tests and getting the average, the Pixel 3 scored a single-core score of 2.358 and multi-core score of 8,251. On the same CPU test, the Pixel 3 XL scored average of 1,845 single-core score and an average of 6,862 on the multi-core score.

That puts the Pixel 3 at 27.8 percent faster on single-core operations and 20.4 percent faster on multi-core operations.

Why there’s a performance difference is unclear. Perhaps the larger screen and larger battery on the Pixel 3 XL suck up just a bit more CPU power.

The Pixel 3’s raw power is disappointing compared to other flagship Android phones. I ran fresh Geekbench 4 tests on the Galaxy Note 9 (Android 8.1 Oreo) and the OnePlus 6 (Android 9 Pie) and both scored higher than the Pixel 3’s.

The Galaxy Note scored an average 2,445 (3.69 percent faster than Pixel 3) on single-core and 8,922 (8.13 percent faster than Pixel 3) on multi-core. The OnePlus 6 scored an average 2,399 on single-core (1.74 percent faster than the Pixel 3) and 8,976 on multi-core (38.72 percent faster than Pixel 3).

Facebook’s gaming hub Fb.gg launches into beta on Android

This summer, Facebook launched Fb.gg, its online gaming hub and Twitch competitor, designed to attract game streamers and their fans to watch videos on Facebook instead of on rival sites. The destination shows videos based on which games and streaming celebrities users follow, plus Liked Pages and Groups, and other featured suggestions of what to watch. Now, Fb.gg is expanding to mobile with its launch on Android.

The new app, first spotted by Sensor Tower, arrived just a few days ago and is currently in beta testing.

According to its description on Google Play, the app allows gamers and fans to discover a “universe of gaming content,” connect with creators and join communities, and play instant games like Everwing, Words with Friends, Basketball FRVR, and others.

From the screenshots, you can see how the Fb.gg app lets users tap navigation buttons at the top to find streamers to watch, or to view those streamers they’re already following, among other things. They can also participate in live conversations during gameplay with other viewers. Here, they can react to the stream using Facebook’s standard emoticon set of likes, hearts, haha’s and others.

Another section lets gamers jump into simple and popular mobile games. These titles are among those who were early participants in Facebook’s other gaming efforts in the past, like Instant Games on Facebook and Messenger.

Facebook has been trying to woo the gaming community for some time, to better compete against Amazon’s Twitch and Google’s YouTube. There’s a large and growing market for game streaming and viewing, with young viewers tuning in an average of 3+ hours a week to watch, as TechCrunch previously noted.

Facebook’s efforts to directly challenge Twitch and others kicked off in earnest this year, with the launch of its own version of Twitch’s Partner Program. Facebook’s  gaming creator pilot program, as it’s called, allows viewers to tip their favorite gamers. And with the arrival of Fb.gg in June, the virtual currency involved in those tips was being referred to as Facebook Stars, with each star equating to $0.01.

Facebook said it takes a cut of fans’ purchases of stars, ranging from 5%-30%, depending on what size pack is bought.

Facebook also recently began testing a monthly subscription option with game streamers, similar to what’s offered by YouTube and Twitch.

Of course, to truly compete with Twitch and YouTube, Facebook needs to go mobile as well – especially since the upcoming Messenger redesign will hide away extraneous features, like mobile gaming. That’s where Fb.gg’s app comes in.

The Android version of the Fb.gg beta app launched on October 9, and already has over 10,000 installs, according to Google Play.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment on the launch.

Half of all devices now run iOS 12

Half of all devices are now running the latest version of the iOS mobile operating system, iOS 12, according to figures shared by Apple. On devices introduced in the last four years, that number is as high as 53 percent. And iOS 12 adoption is taking place more quickly than the last release did, Apple also notes.

As we previously reported, it took until November 6, 2017 for iOS 11 reach 52 percent of all current iPhones and iPads. iOS 12 achieved that milestone in mid-October.

Apple’s new figures, available here on its Apple Developer website, also confirm a third-party report released last week, which claimed to show a similar trend. According to Mixpanel’s findings, then roughly 47.6 percent of all iOS devices were running iOS 12, while 45.6 percent were running iOS 11. The remaining devices were running an older version, it had said.

Apple’s data backs this up, too, showing iOS 12 at 53 percent on all devices introduced since September 2014, followed by iOS 11 at 40 percent, then the remaining 7 percent running an earlier version of iOS.

In terms of all iOS devices, Apple’s figures are: iOS 12 at 50 percent, iOS 11 at 39 percent, with 11 percent running an earlier iOS version.

The adoption rates related to the new version of Android look far different, by comparison. The latest release, Android Oreo (8.0 and 8.1), runs on just 19.2 percent of devices. Nougat, Marshmallow, Lollipop, and KitKat still have large install bases as well, at 20.3 percent, 21.6 percent, 18.3 percent, and 7.8 percent, respectively.

But Apple has an advantage when it comes to distributing its mobile OS. While Google pushes out updates to its own supported Pixel, Nexus and Android One devices, Android updates, for the most part, are handled by OEMs and carriers.

The new data on iOS 12 adoption rates follow another third-party report, this one from CIRP, which claims Apple is catching up to Android loyalty rates in Q3 and is seeing retention rates that are at an all-time high. CIRP’s reporting is based on survey data, however, not direct measurements like Mixpanel and Apple’s figures are.