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At its core, the operating system is known as Android Open Source Project (AOSP)[4] and is free and open-source software (FOSS) primarily licensed under the Apache License. However most devices run on the proprietary Android version developed by Google, which ship with additional proprietary closed-source software pre-installed,[5] most notably Google Mobile Services (GMS)[6] which includes core apps such as Google Chrome, the digital distribution platform Google Play, and the associated Google Play Services development platform. While AOSP is free, the "Android" name and logo are trademarks of Google, which imposes standards to restrict the use of Android branding by "uncertified" devices outside their ecosystem.[7][8]




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In 2010, Google launched its Nexus series of devices, a lineup in which Google partnered with different device manufacturers to produce new devices and introduce new Android versions. The series was described as having "played a pivotal role in Android's history by introducing new software iterations and hardware standards across the board", and became known for its "bloat-free" software with "timely ... updates".[37] At its developer conference in May 2013, Google announced a special version of the Samsung Galaxy S4, where, instead of using Samsung's own Android customization, the phone ran "stock Android" and was promised to receive new system updates fast.[38] The device would become the start of the Google Play edition program, and was followed by other devices, including the HTC One Google Play edition,[39] and Moto G Google Play edition.[40] In 2015, Ars Technica wrote that "Earlier this week, the last of the Google Play edition Android phones in Google's online storefront were listed as "no longer available for sale" and that "Now they're all gone, and it looks a whole lot like the program has wrapped up".[41][42]


Due to the open nature of Android, a number of third-party application marketplaces also exist for Android, either to provide a substitute for devices that are not allowed to ship with Google Play Store, provide applications that cannot be offered on Google Play Store due to policy violations, or for other reasons. Examples of these third-party stores have included the Amazon Appstore, GetJar, and SlideMe. F-Droid, another alternative marketplace, seeks to only provide applications that are distributed under free and open source licenses.[114][120][121][122]


In addition to running on smartphones and tablets, several vendors run Android natively on regular PC hardware with a keyboard and mouse.[149][150][151][152] In addition to their availability on commercially available hardware, similar PC hardware-friendly versions of Android are freely available from the Android-x86 project, including customized Android 4.4.[153] Using the Android emulator that is part of the Android SDK, or third-party emulators, Android can also run non-natively on x86 architectures.[154][155] Chinese companies are building a PC and mobile operating system, based on Android, to "compete directly with Microsoft Windows and Google Android".[156] The Chinese Academy of Engineering noted that "more than a dozen" companies were customizing Android following a Chinese ban on the use of Windows 8 on government PCs.[157][158][159]


Android's source code does not contain the device drivers, often proprietary, that are needed for certain hardware components,[166] and does not contain the source code of Google Play Services, which many apps depend on. As a result, most Android devices, including Google's own, ship with a combination of free and open source and proprietary software, with the software required for accessing Google services falling into the latter category.[citation needed] In response to this, there are some projects that build complete operating systems based on AOSP as free software, the first being CyanogenMod (see section Open-source community below).


Google reported rolling out new amendments in Android 12 aimed at making the use of third-party application stores easier. This announcement rectified the concerns reported regarding the development of Android apps, including a fight over an alternative in-app payment system and difficulties faced by businesses moving online because of COVID-19.[188]


In 2020, the Which? watchdog reported that more than a billion Android devices released in 2012 or earlier, which was 40% of Android devices worldwide, were at risk of being hacked. This conclusion stemmed from the fact that no security updates were issued for the Android versions below 7.0 in 2019. Which? collaborated with the AV Comparatives anti-virus lab to infect five phone models with malware, and it succeeded in each case. Google refused to comment on the watchdog's speculations.[276]


Since February 2012, Google has used its Google Bouncer malware scanner to watch over and scan apps available in the Google Play store.[279][280] A "Verify Apps" feature was introduced in November 2012, as part of the Android 4.2 "Jelly Bean" operating system version, to scan all apps, both from Google Play and from third-party sources, for malicious behaviour.[281] Originally only doing so during installation, Verify Apps received an update in 2014 to "constantly" scan apps, and in 2017 the feature was made visible to users through a menu in Settings.[282][283]


Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation have been critical of Android and have recommended the usage of alternatives such as Replicant, because drivers and firmware vital for the proper functioning of Android devices are usually proprietary, and because the Google Play Store application can forcibly install or uninstall applications and, as a result, invite non-free software. In both cases, the use of closed-source software causes the system to become vulnerable to backdoors.[315][316]


Google licenses their Google Mobile Services software, along with the Android trademarks, only to hardware manufacturers for devices that meet Google's compatibility standards specified in the Android Compatibility Program document.[318] Thus, forks of Android that make major changes to the operating system itself do not include any of Google's non-free components, stay incompatible with applications that require them, and must ship with an alternative software marketplace in lieu of Google Play Store.[114] A prominent example of such an Android fork is Amazon's Fire OS, which is used on the Kindle Fire line of tablets, and oriented toward Amazon services.[114] The shipment of Android devices without GMS is also common in mainland China, as Google does not do business there.[319][320][321]


Some stock applications and components in AOSP code that were formerly used by earlier versions of Android, such as Search, Music, Calendar, and the location API, were abandoned by Google in favor of non-free replacements distributed through Play Store (Google Search, Google Play Music, and Google Calendar) and Google Play Services, which are no longer open-source. Moreover, open-source variants of some applications also exclude functions that are present in their non-free versions.[114][325][326][327] These measures are likely intended to discourage forks and encourage commercial licensing in line with Google requirements, as the majority of the operating system's core functionality is dependent on proprietary components licensed exclusively by Google, and it would take significant development resources to develop an alternative suite of software and APIs to replicate or replace them. Apps that do not use Google components would also be at a functional disadvantage, as they can only use APIs contained within the OS itself. In turn, third-party apps may have dependencies on Google Play Services.[328]


Since then Android has grown to become the most widely used smartphone operating system[337][338] and "one of the fastest mobile experiences available".[339] Reviewers have highlighted the open-source nature of the operating system as one of its defining strengths, allowing companies such as Nokia (Nokia X family),[340] Amazon (Kindle Fire), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Ouya, Baidu and others to fork the software and release hardware running their own customised version of Android. As a result, it has been described by technology website Ars Technica as "practically the default operating system for launching new hardware" for companies without their own mobile platforms.[337] This openness and flexibility is also present at the level of the end user: Android allows extensive customisation of devices by their owners and apps are freely available from non-Google app stores and third party websites. These have been cited as among the main advantages of Android phones over others.[337][341]


On October 16, 2018, Google announced that it would change its distribution model for Google Mobile Services in the EU, since part of its revenues streams for Android which came through use of Google Search and Chrome were now prohibited by the EU's ruling. While the core Android system remains free, OEMs in Europe would be required to purchase a paid license to the core suite of Google applications, such as Gmail, Google Maps and the Google Play Store. Google Search will be licensed separately, with an option to include Google Chrome at no additional cost atop Search. European OEMs can bundle third-party alternatives on phones and devices sold to customers, if they so choose. OEMs will no longer be barred from selling any device running incompatible versions of Android in Europe.[452]


Google has developed several variations of Android for specific use cases, including Android Wear, later renamed Wear OS, for wearable devices such as wrist watches,[464][465] Android TV for televisions,[466][467] Android Things for smart or Internet of things devices and Android Automotive for cars.[468][469] Additionally, by providing infrastructure that combines dedicated hardware and dedicated applications running on regular Android, Google have opened up the platform for its use in particular usage scenarios, such as the Android Auto app for cars,[470][471] and Daydream, a Virtual Reality platform.[472] 350c69d7ab


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