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Revealed: Google's questionable tactics against Amazon in smart TV space

Google's controversial policy on Android forks reportedly extends to the TV space as well.

Published onMarch 12, 2020

The NVIDIA Shield Android TVs 2017 Android TV box.

Google bars participating phone manufacturers from releasing devices with forked versions of Android. But it’s now emerged that the search giant is apparently blocking Amazon Fire TV in a similar way when it comes to the TV sector.

Several sources told Protocol that any company wanting to license Android TV and Google’s apps for its smart TVs isn’t allowed to make devices that use forked Android versions. And Amazon’s Fire TV platform is indeed an Android fork. Failure to adhere to this Google-mandated term means that a company can lose access to the Play Store and other Google services for its devices.

“They cannot do Android TV and Fire TV simultaneously,” an anonymous senior employee at a prominent TV manufacturer was quoted as saying.

Fighting Fire TV with fire

An image of the new UI experience that comes with the NVIDIA Shield TVs Oreo update.

It’s believed that Google is following a similar path as it did with smartphone manufacturers, by mandating that TV manufacturers agree to the Android Compatibility Commitment. Manufacturers have to agree to this commitment — which purportedly sets standards for device and app compatibility — in order to get access to Google’s Android TV apps and services. But the agreement doesn’t allow these brands to release devices with forked versions of Android, such as Fire TV.

Interestingly enough, two sources told Protocol that the agreement spans device categories. So smartphone manufacturers who sign this agreement can’t release a Fire TV product either. And TV makers who sign this agreement can’t release a forked version of Android on a mobile device.

NVIDIA Shield TV review (2019 version): The best Android TV box, again
NVIDA Shield TV 2019 modle and controller upright

But the Android Compatibility Commitment terms for phone manufacturers have resulted in Google being fined €4.3 billion (~$5 billion) by the European Commission. The fine came after the commission found that Google imposed “illegal” restrictions on manufacturers. More specifically, it took issue with Google requiring OEMs to pre-install Google Search and Chrome, and with the search giant preventing phone brands from selling devices running forked Android versions.

In other words, it’s hard to imagine that the European Commission wouldn’t take a dim view of this latest development. On the one hand, you can understand Google wanting to set standards for manufacturers. Then again, it’s clear that barring Android forks (even when they’re as drastically different as Fire TV) seems like a way to push out competition in this space.

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