With TCL announcing that it will release two TV sets running Amazon’s Fire TV OS in Europe, OEMs could find themselves with a new lease of freedom within Google’s walled garden. This follows a damning report from the Competition Commission of India (CCI) which recently found that most TV manufacturers were scared to enter a partnership with Amazon due to feared retaliation from Google.
Concluding with a $162 million fine for Google, the CCI report found that at least seven OEMs – including TCL, Xiaomi, Skyworth, Foxconn, Panasonic and Hisense – were outright banned from partnering with Amazon in India under Google’s licensing terms. However, according to Protocol, it seems that Google and Amazon have struck a deal in recent months whereby the latter can now pursue partnerships with some of these OEMs.
Traditionally, Google has imposed a confidential agreement on its OEM partners that has prevented them from making devices based on forked versions of Android. Known as the Android Compatibility Commitment (ACC), the agreement directly compromises the growth of Android TV offshoots, such as Amazon’s Fire TV OS.
If an OEM were to violate the agreement in one consumer electronics vertical – smart TVs, for instance – this would harm its license across all devices. With many OEMs also tied into the smartphone, automotive and aviation markets, losing the Android license is too big a risk.
Regarding the ACC, Google has previously said that tight red tape is essential for the smooth running of a global OS across multiple devices and manufacturers – “providing consistent and secure software experiences to users and developers, across our ecosystem of partner devices.” The supposed fear is that the incompatibility that comes with forked versions will put app functionality and user security at risk.
However, there are clearly vested interests at play.
Amazon has not held back when accusing its chief rival of anti-competitive practices. “Given the breadth of the anti-fragmentation obligations, Amazon has also experienced significant difficulties in finding OEM partners to manufacture smart TVs running its Fire OS,” was one key revelation from an unnamed company’s Indian subsidiary in the CCI report.
It is worth noting that Google’s OEM partners can technically partner with any non-Android OS as they see fit. For now, the only serious competitor that this affects is Amazon Fire TV, but it is worth noting that TiVo’s Android TV-based TiVo Stream OS is set to enter the smart TV and connected TV device market in the next few years.
Equally, Huawei’s HarmonyOS is a reskinned version of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), although many question its viability in Western markets.
Google is clearly on the back foot against regulators around the world, with antitrust probing coming from all corners of the globe. It is unlikely that this deal will placate things, however. While freeing up certain OEMs to partner with OS as they please is certainly a step in the right direction, it does little to reduce Android TV’s dominant position in the marketplace.
Globally, Faultline’s sister research service Rethink TV estimates that Android TV is set to grow from a 52% install base of smart TVs and CTV devices in 2022, to 66% by 2026 – 357 million devices. When factoring in all Android-based OS, this 2026 number balloons to 993 million devices, alongside 230 million set tops.
TCL’s onboarding of Amazon Fire TV is one of a few recent clues that the ice is melting on Google’s licensing terms. Earlier this year, Amazon quietly announced partnerships with Hisense and Xiaomi.
It therefore seems that Google is selectively ignoring the ACC, as there are no indications that Amazon has made the necessary changes to keep Fire TV in line with the main trunk of Android TV. However, Google has made no indication that this is the case, instead choosing to churn out the same few lines that justify why the ACC is needed.
Tactics are everything here. Google cannot risk giving up too much of the market to Amazon, or any other competitor for that matter, but the short term loss is worth keeping scandalous headlines away. Allowing some OEMs temporary reprieve from their licensing commitments may just keep the bulk of its partners towing the party line, or at least for the near-term future.
The 293-page report from the CCI was the summary of a year-long investigation that interviewed companies across consumer technology, including Samsung, Microsoft and Mozilla. It found that Google does abuse its dominant position in Android, to the surprise of no one.