Google has hyped up the fact that its Android operating system is open source software, meaning that in theory anyone could use it for their own device. The reality, however, is a bit more complicated than that, according to newly revealed documents that show Google has a number of requirements and licenses for Android OEMs.
The documents, which show the license terms between Google and two Android device makers (Samsung and HTC) are from January 2011 but were posted this week by Harvard Business School professor Benjamin Edelman. They show that OEMs who want access to apps like Google Play and Google Maps must sign a "Mobile Application Distribution Agreement". It also insists devices include other Google apps like Gmail, Google+ and more. Google Search must also be the default search engine under this agreement.
Even the placement of Google's apps on the home screen of a smartphone is controlled by this contract. It states, "Google Phone-top Search and the Android Market Client icon must be placed at least on the panel immediately adjacent to the Default Home Screen."
Of course, device makers can still use Android as the OS for their products without signing this agreement. Amazon uses a highly modified version of Android for its Kindle Fire tablets that uses its own app store, rather than Google Play.