From facts to terminology, learn how Android helps support the mobile market.
Unlike many other mobile operating systems, Android allows device makers to modify the operating system code and doesn’t charge any licensing fees.
Each new update to the Android operating system is a free, fully-functional, open-source mobile operating system that manufacturers can use to build devices.
Google has released 24 versions of the Android operating system since 2008 and continues to make substantial investments to develop, grow, and improve the OS.
No one is ever required to pre-install Google’s suite of proprietary apps to access, use, or distribute the Android operating system. For example, the Amazon Fire tablet runs on an operating system that was built using Android, yet ships with no Google apps pre-installedThe Digital Reader - How to Download and Install Apps from Google Play for Your Fire Tablet - October 2015.
Microsoft has partnered with 74 Android manufacturers based in 25 countries to preload its popular productivity apps and services on many Android tablets and phones including the Samsung Galaxy S6, Sony Xperia Z4, and the LG G Pad 2
Even if a phone has Google’s suite of proprietary apps pre-installed, device makers and mobile operators often choose to pre-install similar apps on a device-by-device basis—such as email, messaging, browsers, and media players.
Among 2016 flagship phones in the UK, Germany, and France, only 29% of pre-installed apps are from Google. The remaining 71% are from device makers, mobile operators, and other companies, like Facebook.
Android apps have more distribution opportunities than on any other mobile platform. In addition to the Play Store, there are dozens of other app stores on Android, such as GetJar, Yandex, LG’s Smart World, and Samsung’s Galaxy Apps storeBusiness of Apps - The Ultimate App Store List - February 2015.
While users on other platforms can’t download alternative app stores without “jailbreaking” their phonesApple Developer - App Store Review Guidelines - Rule 3.2.2.(i), Google doesn’t restrict other stores from Android—making it the only major mobile OS to enable multiple app stores.
Android users can completely customize their homescreens with launchers and widgets, and reskin their devices. Even pre-installed apps can be removed from the homescreen or disabled entirely.
Device makers and mobile operators often preload other app stores onto their phones in addition to Google Play, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Apps store or Xiaomi’s MiMarket.
Because third-party app stores don’t always adhere to the strict Google Play Store security checks for apps, Google Play doesn’t allow other app stores to be downloaded directly through the Play Store. Learn more
Most major Android device makers choose to customize the look and feel of their phones as a way of differentiating their devices.
A pre-installed app doesn’t prevent similar or competing apps from being more successful. Hangouts is part of Google’s suite of proprietary apps, yet WhatsApp, another messaging service, has over one billion usersWhatsApp - WhatsApp Blog One Billion - February 2016 (¾ of which are on AndroidVentureBeat - Three-quarters of WhatsApp users are on Android, 22% on iOS (study) - August 2015) and Facebook Messenger has one billion active monthly usersFortune - Facebook Messenger Now Has 1 Billion Monthly Users - July 2016.
90% of Android apps on Google Play use Android’s “intents” system, which allows developers to designate other apps to perform certain actions. This lets Android users set any app they want as the default for tasks like search or web browsing including UC Browser, Opera, or Chrome.
If device makers want to preinstall Google apps, they must install the full Google Mobile Services (GMS) suite, as they were designed to work together to provide a baseline functionality for users—like the ability to save a photo from Gmail to Photos or open a Gmail attachment in Drive.
Google doesn’t require manufacturers to sign an anti-fragmentation requirement. This is an entirely voluntary step taken by device makers to prevent incompatibility—a problem that drives up development costs and harms the user experiences.
The Android Open-Source Project (AOSP) is the core software stack behind the Android OS and consists of the operating system, middleware, and open-source apps like a phone dialer, email, and messaging. Mobile operators, device makers, and developers can use this to build devices and appsAndroid - source.android.com.
Android makes a device compatibility test widely available to help device makers ensure that Android apps will work properly on their devices. Manufacturers who sign Google’s voluntary compatibility agreements are still free to choose which apps and app stores to pre-load onto their devices, whether their own or those of a third-partyAndroid - source.android.com.
Google Mobile Services is a proprietary collection of 11 user-facing apps and several background apps including Search, Chrome, Play Store, Play Music, Play Movies, Drive, Photos, Maps, Gmail, Hangouts, and YouTube. Device makers can use this free service to ensure their phones provide a useful user experience right out of the box.
Google Play Services is a framework of features that give Android developers the ability to build additional features into their apps—like adding a map, inserting a leaderboard in their game, or the ability to cast a video from their app to a TV.
By being an open-source platform, Android’s source code is available for anyone to view, download, modify, enhance, and redistribute without requiring any sort of fees, royalties, or other costs. This is the opposite of closed source/proprietary software which never makes its source code public and strictly prohibits any modification.
Even with Google apps pre-installed on certain Android devices, many third-party apps thrive on Android. For example, in high-growth markets like India, 98% of people surveyed use Facebook’s WhatsApp at least once a month for messaging, while only 32% use Google HangoutsEricsson ConsumerLab - Communication in the world of apps - June 2015.