From KitKat onwards, Android will no longer include a web browser by default. Recent versions had included Google’s Chrome browser, but now manufacturers have been left with three choices: leave the end user to install their own web browser, develop a custom web browser or buy an appropriate licence from Google to allow the inclusion of Chrome.
Top manufacturers like HTC and Samsung already supply their own custom browsers with devices. They also routinely licence additional services – such as Google Maps and the Play store – so the changes won’t be of any particular concern to organisations such as these.
Two trends within the market have prompted the move from Google. Firstly, we are seeing the likes of BlackBerry OS 10 and Sailfish piggybacking on Android’s app ecosystem without tying users into Google’s other services.
Secondly – and more of a concern for Google – is that competitors such as Amazon’s Fire OS have forked Android. What Google are keen to avoid is a situation where a number of different Android strands exist outside its control, where a competitor can simply pick and choose the components they would like to include.
Google’s increasing use of licensing for what many would see as essential Android components has not escaped criticism. There is an argument that such a strategy is against the spirit of the open source movement that has benefited Android so much.
Attempting to take back control of an ever-greater number of Android elements is not without its dangers. But the move is a calculated risk by Google.
Recently Jolla completed a deal with Yandex that will see the Russian search engine giant’s app store supplied with new Sailfish-based phones.
Yandex also develops a rival Android web browser, which recently received a major update to include support for tablets. It is a viable alternative, but like Chrome, it is based on the Chromium Open Source Project.
The reality is that many alternative web browsers available for Android are based on Chromium. So even if there was to be mass adoption of a rival like Yandex Browser tomorrow, Google would still retain influence on web standards through its leading role in the Chromium Open Source Project.
That is not to say that Chromium entirely dominates the Android browser market. Old favourite Firefox uses its own Gecko layout engine.
What’s more, Firefox is becoming an increasingly commercial project. Recently Mozilla signed deals that will see its popular web browser come preinstalled on a number of Android phones and tablets.
Google and Mozilla do have a long-standing arrangement that sees the search engine colossus set as the default search option on Firefox browsers. Yet at the same time, Google accepts the risk of users moving away from search towards apps and services on mobile devices.
Firefox, meanwhile, is developing its own platform-neutral app ecosystem. Apps are built in HTML5, meaning that they could function perfectly well on Android phones and tablets.
So there is perhaps a small window of opportunity for Firefox. Mozilla will no doubt seek out more distribution deals similar to those already agreed with Kobo and Gigabyte, with the aim of ensuring Firefox becomes the default option on more Android devices.
Firefox’s Android browser is excellent and the average user is unlikely to care if it comes shipped on a new device instead of Chrome.
Google knows its in a position of strength, however. Whilst Chrome might not be an essential Android app, most other Google services are considered vital by users, and Chrome will likely be bundled in the licensing deals concluded with big manufacturers for some time to come.
[via Unwired View]