Gigaom (and our sister blog TechnologyTell) reports that a Portuguese Android app store, Aptoide, has filed an anti-trust complaint against Google to the European Commission. This isn’t the first such complaint Google’s gotten in Europe, either.
Aptoide complains that Google’s Play store won’t permit fully-functional third-party app stores on board (which is to say, apps that let you download other apps from outside Google), that Google has been making it harder and harder for people to find the setting necessary to allow installation of third-party apps, that the Google Play store is bundled with Google’s services and required to be installed in search agreements with mobile carriers, and that Google Chrome claims its installer page is infested with malware and Google has been unresponsive about getting it fixed. (That last, at least, I can verify no longer seems to be the case; I was able to load the page without a malware warning just fine.)
Frankly, I suspect this complaint will not get very far. As much as some folks (including the otherwise generally level-headed Ars Technica, for some reason) like to bang the “Google Monopoly” drum every time Google does anything with Android that makes it money or makes Android less “open source” (“With control of the most-used operating system in the world, Google can do whatever it wants,” says Ars at the end of one such article), it’s nonetheless undeniable Google has great big huge doors in the walls in its garden. It’s just those doors have doorknobs you actually have to turn to open them with.
First of all, do you know how simple it is to enable third party app stores? As I wrote in my guide to installing Kit Kat on the Nook HD, this is all you have to do:
Go into Settings, and swipe the left menu up until you come to “Security”. Tap “Security” and swipe the right menu up until you find “Unknown sources.” Put a check mark next to “Unknown sources.” It will give you a warning; just tap “OK.”
That’s it. Four very short sentences are all that’s required to tell someone how to do it. And that’s supposed to be so hard that only 20% of people knew how to do it? Well, I suppose maybe if you asked them cold. I’ll admit, I didn’t know how to do it cold either when I first needed to. But that’s what guides and instructions are for. I looked it up. Seriously, Aptoide couldn’t put those instructions on the page where the installer is?
(Actually, come to think of it, they did. Well, actually they just said “Go to settings and allow the installation of apps from unknown sources.” That could be their problem right there. Maybe, if you’re going to have someone allow installation of apps from unknown sources, you should actually try telling them how to do it yourself?)
As for not allowing third party app stores into its own app store, well, can you really blame Google? Google depends on being able to curate the apps in its store. It’s let a few exploits slip by, but it quickly removes them when it finds them. Its store is basically safe home turf. You have to make an act of will to venture out of it and expose yourself to the danger of the unknown. And, frankly, I don’t mind at all that it might take a little effort.
Have you seen the Windows ecosystem? People can install all kinds of trojans and viruses in their computers that then spread themselves to others, or mine bitcoins, or send spam email, or whatever. And many of them do. I think I prefer Android having a “You must be THIS TALL to ride this ride” test on the ability to install new app stores. It’s safer for everyone that way.
Conversely, have you seen the iTunes ecosystem? If you want to complain about your walled gardens, maybe someone should take Apple to task? In order to install third-party app stores and apps on iOS devices, you have to jailbreak them. Where are all the complaints about that? On Android, you only have to flip a switch or check a box, and then download something from a web site. Boom, you’re good. I’ve got the Google Play store, the Amazon app store, and the 1mobile app store installed on my Nook HD with Kit Kat. Once you’ve flipped the switch, it’s not a problem to add as many as you want.
So, yes, Google bundles the Play Store with Android. That’s because the people who buy those Android devices are going to need to get their apps from somewhere. Some carriers even put their own app stores, or app downloaders, on their phones; my Virgin Mobile LG Optimus F3 came with an LG apps downloader with some customized apps like a special file manager. And you can buy plenty of cheap Android tablets that come with their own third party app store instead.
I’m given to understand it’s possible to install CyanogenMod without the Google Play bundled apps at all, and just put a third party app store like Amazon, 1mobile, or Aptoide on and use that instead. Of course, that means you don’t get all those bundled apps like Google Maps and so on, but that’s the price you pay. Or you could simply install them and just not buy stuff from the Google Play Store. Whatever.
When you get right down to it, Google made Android. It’s only natural it puts its own stuff in it. The nice thing is that it makes it possible for you to put other people’s stuff in it, too. And if you have to jump through a few simple hoops to do it, think of it as like a license exam for the information superhighway. If you can’t figure it out, then you probably wouldn’t be able to figure out how to avoid malware either, so it’s probably better off all around that you don’t do it.
The point is, complaining against Google for monopolizing its own OS is ridiculous, especially when you compare it to Apple. Hopefully this complaint gets dismissed before too long.