back to article China turns to no-name handsets: Android - without the Google-iness

There could be trouble on the horizon for Google. Consumers in the world's biggest mobile phone market appear to be shunning big-name Android handsets for no-name Androids - with Google stripped out. That's the trend identified by Enders analyst Ben Evans in a must-read blog post here. The dataset is mobile traffic to Baidu over …

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"Google receives no signalling information from these devices"

Where do I get one?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Google receives no signalling information from these devices"

While Google may not harvest data, which I agree is a good thing on the face of it - what other code might be in there that you can never audit? What information could leak out to other places?

Would you like to leave the safety of your frying-pan and take your chances in the fire?

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Re: "Google receives no signalling information from these devices"

Google is the frying pan and the fire. As I just want a phone to ... well ... phone from time to time, I'd buy one as well to replace by 8 year old nokia whatsit.

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Re: "Google receives no signalling information from these devices"

"While Google may not harvest data, which I agree is a good thing on the face of it - what other code might be in there that you can never audit? What information could leak out to other places?"

That must apply to any phone OS. At least with Android you can look at the code so it's less of a risk than other systems.

"Would you like to leave the safety of your frying-pan and take your chances in the fire?"

I guess your frying-pan must be not having a smart phone at all!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Google receives no signalling information from these devices"

"As I just want a phone to ... well ... phone from time to time, I'd buy one as well to replace by 8 year old nokia whatsit."

If you want a phone to just phone, why not get another £10 Nokia and avoid exposing yourself to the complexities and inherent vulnerabilities of a fully-functional OS?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Google receives no signalling information from these devices"

"Where do I get one?"

Any Android phone - just don't setup a Google account and don't turn on location sharing and assisted GPS. It's not rocket science.

Settings > Location:

http://www.gizmodigit.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Android-OS-Location-Tracking.jpg

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Google receives no signalling information from these devices"

"Where do i get one?"

Google it and find out. No, wait......

:o)

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IT Angle

Re: "Google receives no signalling information from these devices"

Every street corner in China. I take it you've never visited??

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Boffin

Re: "Google receives no signalling information from these devices"

"what other code might be in there that you can never audit?"

Pretty much anything you can think of. Let's just put it this way - don't go putting your credit card number in one of these things. But a lot of these devices are pretty cool from a design perspective. Some of them have some pretty unique UI's that you won't find anywhere else in the world. Some of them are freakishly well designed to hook into the Chinese internet chat programs, like QQ.

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Make me Asian App?

They're going to miss out on that one, if they don't go with Google.

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Makes sense

After trying to get the Google Play thingy to work on my Cyanogenmod device twice, I too "got rid" of Google.

I don't want my hardware vendor telling me what to do and when to update, I don't want my software vendor snooping on me.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Makes sense

Why buy and use anything Google related then?

The only way to signal to these people that you don't like what they do is to not buy into their product and ecosystem.

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Re: Makes sense (@AC)

I think the problem is that you have to pick one company or another. The three biggest names in mobiles right now are probably Google, Samsung and Apple — if described at their worst, a personal information thief and wifi snooper, a convicted cartel member and a patent troll.

In those circumstances I think that someone with suitable technical skills buying a Google phone because it's most hackable and then going to the necessary extremes to remove the undesirable behaviour is understandable.

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Black Helicopters

2 Questions

>Does not phone home to google.

But does it phone home directly to the communist party intelligence headquarters ?

>extremely expensive operation for Google

Do you mean that the AppStore doesn't generate larger sums of money for Google? In Sept 2012 they annonced the 25 Billionth download ( I know downloads dont equal revenue but even if only one dollar was earned for 5% of total downloads) .

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 2 Questions

> communist party intelligence

There's a novel concept.

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Re: 2 Questions

Who cares if it phones the communist party intelligence headquarters? The last I heard they aren't some criminal company, and besides them communist party intelligenciers need to learn the real radical stuff from somewhere.

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Pirate

Re: 2 Questions

"But does it phone home directly to the communist party intelligence headquarters ?"

More likely to the local village's version of the Chinese mafia headquarters.

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Re: 2 Questions

But does it phone home directly to the communist party intelligence headquarters ?

Communist Party vs. Capitalist Crony Party .... same, same .... although one does hope that ones search statistics would give the evil chinese communists (tm) the idea that I might be influenced and corrupted by naked wimmen.

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Re: 2 Questions

I don't think Google Play does generate all that much revenue — one of the notable differences between the Apple and Google ecosystems is that the latter tends to be more focussed on apps that are free at the point of delivery and then make money through in-app advertising or through selling additional content. And, of course, Google doesn't have any sort of requirement that they receive a cut of the latter.

Per the App Annie report that El Reg (and many others) wrote about in December, Google were seeing about 85% as many downloads as Google but generating just a quarter of the revenue.

If you take whatever number that is, add Android advertising revenue and subtract development costs I can easily imagine the outcome being negative.

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Can anyone tell us .....

What form of open source license did Google release Android under? Will Microsoft be going after the Chinese manufacturers in the same way as it has with the big name ones for patent fees per unit sold? Does Amazon also pay patent fees to Microsoft?

Given that a smartphone is a consumer device, then even if the license has conditions requiring release of source code during 'redistribution', this will not apply to any Android adaptations or forks that are used, since they are 'black box' implementations. This also means that anyone is free to copy Amazon's Kindle code and make their own clone (I think).

I also have a feeling that Google wouldn't be too bothered since any entrenchment of Android or it's derivatives would tend to reduce sales of iPhone and Microsoft offerings.

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Re: Can anyone tell us .....

The kernel is GPL, the rest of the open source is Apache 2.0. Microsoft (and everyone else with their hand out) has absolutely zero chance of collecting license fees from any of these manufacturers.

Amazon only releases their kernel source, as required by GPL, but don't share their user interface source, as allowed by the Apache License.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Can anyone tell us .....

Well Google make such a big deal of it being open source, they can't have it both ways.

It being open source is the only reason for its success, nobody would use the incoherent pile of usability hell that is Android otherwise.

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They'll be back for brands later

So the unintended consequence is a softly-softly marketing approach, Google takes no responsibility for the quality but does get indirect exposure.

Once having been educated to like Android and Smartphones, the Chinese consumer will certainly be back for genuine certified branded phones later.

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Re: They'll be back for brands later

Why do you assume when they're "back for brands" they'll choose Android? The people buying these low end de-Googled phones are even less likely to know their phone is "Android" than consumers of more typical brands. Most of the people I know with Android phones don't know it is Android, they know them as "Samsung" or "Motorola" phones.

I know one guy who switched to a Lumia and asked him if he liked Windows Phone better than Android and he didn't know what I was talking about until I explained it. He just chose the Lumia because he thought it looked cool and he got it as a free upgrade for contract renewal - and the guy in the store was really pushing them hard, apparently. He's not a dummy either, but like most typical people he isn't really into tech stuff and doesn't know about Android, openness, or any of that stuff. He just wants a phone that can also run a browser and some apps, and they all do that about the same. It is only the zealots who get into Internet flamewars that care about the distinctions between iOS and Android, or iPhone and Lumia and think everyone else should too.

These low end Chinese phone buyers aren't going to choose Android on their next phone any more than they did on this one. Since Android is used in pretty much every non-Apple non-Nokia smartphone out there, they're getting it by default, not choosing it, and if they make an upgrade to a higher end phone in the future their choice in their next phone will be by brand (Samsung, Apple, Nokia) not by OS. The idea that people will get locked in to an ecosystem is a fantasy, only that sub 1% of people who have spent hundreds on apps (I'm sure they're out there, though I don't know any such people) will have enough invested that having to re-buy a handful of apps will cause them to think twice about switching.

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Anonymous Coward

Really a problem for Google?

A non-Google Android is better for them than a IOS or WindowsPhone sale, as it increases the Android userbase even further.

It also makes the 75% marketshare that Android currently has look more like 80%+

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FAIL

Re: Really a problem for Google?

Oh please.

Google have created this monster - and now it's starting to run out of control. So the cancer has now spread to 80% of the market - "yippee".

Cut the tumour out, before it becomes inoperable.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Really a problem for Google?

So monopolies are good are they? hardly.

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No Google services?

I'm sceptical that all or even most of the Shanzhai MTK Androids run no Google services. Even the cheapest of them that I've seen has a hacked-up version of Google Play running.

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Anonymous Coward

Adverts

Android has adverts?

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Payments to MS

I didn't realise the extent to which Google had to license from Microsoft. Perhaps this explains why Google recently announced they were discontinuing their free Exchange sync tool.

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Re: Payments to MS

M$ claim that Linux infringes a whole load of their patents. I've never seen them publish list of which ones, they just send their corporate thugs round and suggest that it might be cheaper for you to just hand over the money than try fighting in court.

One patent they use is the long filename extensions for FAT. Since everyone expects their storage devices to use FAT and doesn't expect to see names grunged up, M$ demand the vendors cough up.

Of course if China has any sense then they don't acknowledge the legitimacy of US SW patents, SW patents being in breach of the relevant international treaties. They would only have to worry about M$ if they started to try and import cheapo no name phones into the US.

In the meantime the Android is open source, so they can clone it, fork it, do as they like.

I just wonder whether they are passing those rights onto their users.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Payments to MS

If you don't like paying patents for the VFAT filesystem then stop using it. Simple as that.

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Re: Payments to MS

I'd happily stop using VFAT if M$ would agree to provide a patent unencumbered filesystem in their monopoly platform.

That way the whole damn world could stop using VFAT and the cost of just about every gadget would be able to go down because their manufactures wouldn't be paying the M$ tax for interoperability with Windows.

But as it stands if you want to be able to plug your camera/mp3 player/television/USB memory or other function thingy into 99% of the worlds PCs it has to use a format that is compatible with the OS on said PCs and that means either it has to use NTFS or it has to use VFAT.

Perhaps as well as the EU forcing M$ to provide alternatives to IE they should force them to provide an alternative filesystem. But at the moment M$ have the world by the short and curlys on this one and long as this patent stands in the US.

But the Chinese no name makers don't have to play this game. So good on them. In this case they aren't ripping anyone off, they are just avoiding being ripped off in the same way as the rest of the world.

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Re: Payments to MS

If Android had used something else, it would be getting integrated into TVs, cameras and so on by now thanks to all the Android devices out there. Google took a short sighted view and is paying for it.

The lack of drivers on Windows would be trivial to fix. Plug in an Android phone to a PC via USB and the phone could show up as a storage device like it currently does AND show up as a CD drive, with a CD that conveniently has drivers for ext3 or whatever free filesystem Google chose to use.

Google has no one to blame but themselves for this, and should have seen it coming.

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Re: Payments to MS

I think you'll find that people expect it to just work without having to install lots of additional SW.

Most Android devices come with some sort of SD slot. Most SD cards are formatted with VFAT. Therefore you have to be able to play with VFAT. Its a crap format, but that's the way the world works.

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Re: Payments to MS

Apple is the proof that you're wrong. There are plenty of owners of iPod, iPhone and iPad who have products that don't "just work without having to install lots of additional SW" as you have to install iTunes first (OK, very recently you can get by without it, but for years this was true) Downloading and installing iTunes is at least as much of a hassle as having a driver install dialog appear when you first connect a phone, so my suggested method of Android filesystem driver installation would no worse if not easier than Apple's model of making you install iTunes.

Regardless of how one personally feels about Apple and iTunes, it is clear that hundreds of millions of people don't feel that the requirement to install additional software on their PC is a show stopper. Having it "just work" without that is better, but is that slight convenience really worth the couple billion dollars or so that Android OEMs will have paid Microsoft so far?

Google is trying to push VP8 instead of h.264 for web video since it's "more open", but they didn't even try to push an alternative to vFAT on Android? Still don't get it.

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Re: Payments to MS

OK so iTunes is a good example where millions of people have just been prepared to install SW in order to be able to talk to their iThing.

But, forgive me if I'm wrong here, you can't plug an SD card into an iPhone, iPad or iPod, so they don't need to be able to use the VFAT filesystem.

Its the need to be able to interoperate between M$ based PCs and Linux (and other open source) environments and the removable media that causes the issue.

Otherwise it would be very easy to use another filesystem on the device itself.

Having said that, one reason I won't buy any more iThings is that I can't just treat them as filesystems on a PC.

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Many of these handsets (not all) do have any GooglePlay on board: when shipping they rely on 3rd party appstores (yes there are a few).

These handsets are completely invisible in the Android stats.

A few, sold only in China, have an "hacked" version of GooglePlay.

Hacked in this case means illegally pre-installed: in any case this version still contribute to Google stats for Android even if often leading to false positives (several Chinese OMS tend to "recycle" IMEI numbers of other handsets).

The reason why Chinese handset vendors do without Google services have nothing to do with freedom from Google or anything of such.

The reason is to avoid the lengthy and cumbersome certification process that is mandatory to be able to get the Google stamp of quality that comes with their services.

The certification process can take longer than 3 months, often more than the life span of these manufacturers anyway.

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Terminator

Did chuckle when I read ...

..."There are already early signs that Qualcomm is branding Snapdragon processors, as a kind of Intel Inside'. ", given the page when I viewed it was entirely surrounded by a Snapdragon advert.

Given the amount that Qualcomm advertise their Snapdragon processor on tech websites (I see it a lot on El Reg) I suspect it is a lot more that 'early signs', and more 'definite and absolute strategy'.

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Anonymous Coward

Even if Google is a PIA, better the devil you know.

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Mushroom

Protection racketeering and corruption inversely related to commercial effectiveness

The same argument applies to the costs of doing business in places where bribes are neccessary to buy off corrupt government officials or as protection money to Mafia gangsters.

"Perhaps as China is brought out of the Wild West into the patent-fee paying trade community, then no-name handsets won't suddenly seem so cheap."

Very funny. Perhaps the Chinese have more sense than to burden their technical innovators with the cost of having to support the inflated salaries of millions of patent lawyers and patent officers ? I don't think so many of the low quality mobile phone patents being litigated and negotiated in the US due to this protection racket would ever apply in Europe. Many of them would never apply in the US, if the defendants could afford the litigation cost more than the Danegeld required for settling out of court.

So, perhaps someone could explain why having millions of bad patents has a positive effect on doing honest business when it's very widely known that corruption and racketeering have a negative effect ?

So whose army is going to bring China into the "patent-fee paying trade community" then ? That would seem to me a bit like a historical rerun of the Opium Wars.

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Happy

Fantastic!

I would love an Android phone without the Google bits. The only bit of Google I want is the search bit, and that will work from any web browser, so I'm more than happy to dump the rest of the crud that gets forced upon me in my Android phone.

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Re: Fantastic!

Sounds like you might want to try Cyanogenmod

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Fantastic!

Wheras I LOVE the Googly bits.

Google Now is simply amazing, and I can't get by without GMail, Google Calendar and Google Music (all of which are magically sync'd across all my devices).

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Re: Fantastic!

I would love to "Cynaogenmod" my galaxy tab 10.1, Korean market version, but I was told (by a guy who modded his mobile of the same model as mine multiple times, but is wholly uncomfortable modding some of the galaxy tab devices) it would become a brick.

I have to mod it to get any sort of firewall, IDS, and other tools onto it. For now, I give in, which is what google and other parties want.

But, in China, China cannot indefinitely allow widespread use the stock version if it wants to effectively and invasively control or monitor all the phones out there using Android or even iOS.

IIUC, China is the ONLY market where Apple conceded to government demand to modify the phones. But, such could be claimed about South Korea, Israel, the UK, and other countries...

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Angel

I have a W1 made by THL... never heard of them? :-) it works great and is still very googly and a fraction of the cost.... not all these generic phones are iffy

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IT Angle

Commodification

It seems the mobile OS becomes a commodity, if Canonical can port their Ubuntu onto mobiles (http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/phone) then other Linux distros can and will do this, too.

Which means the USP in mobiles will be in the hardware, such as who has the better sat-nav, photo sensor, audio chip, you name it.

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Pint

Re: Commodification

I've noticed, with some form of despair, how all Android handsets have been marching to the same drumbeat.

Google drives development and OEMs, bar the Nexus/AOSP devices, get the code at the same time, there's very little opportunity for them to distinguish themselves. As a result they're all releasing the same stuff, e.g. 5" FullDH, quad core yada yada.

Acer, who'd wanted to release a Chinese handset without the Google bits, were threatened they'd lose their Android licence if they went ahead. In similar vein, when Nokia was investigating the Android option, they weren't allowed to ship Nokia Maps or other services. Could Nokia ever have done a PureView 808 style device on Android without Google's help? Could anyone have done NFC on their own? NFC was Google's plan to push Wallet, but that's dead now.

To be fair, it's Google's brand, they can require what they want from licensees. Note: Amazon don't call their devices Android, they just happen to run a very Android-like operating system and can install Android apps (not unlike both SailfishOS and B10 will be able to).

Summary: Google's using Android as a Trojan to create more Google services clients. For handset OEMs it was a quick way into the smartphone market, but many are seeing their own brands being diluted to the extreme. Bada, Tizen, etc are OEMs trying to regain a measure of captaincy of their own fates.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Commodification

My Nokia N9 has NFC apparently, not that it is in any way useful though.

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