Recent difficulties Spotify has had with Apple’s policies serve as a reminder of the degree of control businesses like Google have over software and technology. The licensing of technologies and software for smartphones and other devices, particularly Android, is another area where Google maintains an iron grip. The official version of Android approved by Google or an Android fork are the only options available to device OEMs. A recent arrangement between Google and Amazon has given certain Smart TV manufacturers the confidence to release new TVs running the Fire TV OS while maintaining support for Google’s stock Android in other products.
A recent Protocol article claims that TCL will introduce two smart TVs running the Amazon Fire TV OS later this year in Europe while continuing to market other goods, such as TVs and smartphones, that run stock Android. With products based on Fire TV OS, Xiaomi and Hisense are also extending their smart TV product lines.
Normally, it wouldn’t be a huge problem for a company like TCL to offer consumers multiple smart TV platforms. After all, the company offers TVs in the US that are powered by Android and Roku. But Amazon’s platform represents a change from the norm. Formerly known as the Anti-Fragmentation Agreement, the Android Compatibility Commitment (ACC) was a document that Google required companies to sign in order to pressure OEMs and makers of set-top boxes to avoid using Fire OS and other Android forks or risk losing access to the Play Store for their entire line of products. Google claims that by doing this, its ecosystem of partner devices can offer “uniform and safe software experiences to users and developers.”
The Competition Commission of India recently looked into the Asian nation’s market for smart TVs, and this ostensibly monopolistic behaviour was the source of controversy. Because of Google’s limitations, at least seven manufacturers, according to Amazon, declined to produce smart TVs based on Fire TV OS. A device based on any OS may be sold by companies signing the ACC, but if it is based on Android, it must be compatible with Google’s ecosystem, according to the search engine giant. Such a restriction would have forced Amazon to change Fire OS from its forked features and separate app store to something that resembled pure Android, complete with Play Services. That was obviously not going to happen.
Android smartphone manufacturers were also constrained by a similar compatibility agreement. Google provided devices dependant on the Play Store while also preventing businesses from selling smartphones running unapproved Android forks. Google Search and the Chrome browser were made mandatory for OEMs by the corporation. Thankfully, the agreements were improved in 2018 when the European Commission looked into them.
Although this new agreement between the producers of TV operating systems may be a sign of the times, unnamed insiders told Protocol that Google hasn’t yet modified its position. In response to congressional investigation and other market regulators outside of the US, the corporation may just be “avoid[ing] additional headline risk]. The source also claims that smart TV OEMs may take a break, but Google has the right to tighten the knot at any time. Up until that time, more smart TVs using Fire TV OS may start appearing on store shelves.