Why Google Android software is not as free or open-source as you may think

While the basic Android software is indeed available for free, and can be downloaded, compiled and changed by anyone, it doesn’t include the apps that make up Google’s mobile services – such as Maps, Gmail, and crucially Google Play, which allows people to connect to the online store where they can download apps.

Without them, a device has only minimal functionality.

To get the key apps, a manufacturer needs a “Google Mobile Services” (GMS) licence. GMS licences are issued on a per-model basis. While Google does not charge a fee for the licence, one of the integral steps in the licence-application process requires payment to authorised Android-testing factories. These factories, which include Foxconn and Archos, charge a fee for carrying out the testing required to obtain a GMS licence, which the Guardian understands is negotiated on a case-by-case, per-manufacturer basis.