Google ponders 'privileged' access to Android

Android tablet, Reuters
Image caption Google has debated how to profit from Android when the code is given away for free

Court papers have thrown light on how Google gives some firms early access to Android technology.

The documents detail an internal Google discussion about how to make the most of the mobile operating system.

They explain the quasi-open nature of Android and reveal why it lets firms that keep to Google's specifications put products on sale first.

The policy assumes new significance given Google's bid to buy Motorola's mobile unit, say analysts.

Cashing in

Excerpts from the court papers were posted to the blog of patent expert Florian Mueller. The documents were filed to a US court as part of Google's defence in its legal wrangle with Oracle over some of the code in Android.

One page highlighted by Mr Mueller and labelled "Confidential and Proprietary" lists some of the ways Google profits despite Android being freely distributed.

It discusses the value of granting "early access" to partners who build and market devices to Google's standards and specifications.

The document cites the example of Motorola and US network Verizon.

This, argues Google, allows the companies to sell products that make use of new features and gives them a "time to market" advantage.

The page also mentions the idea of a "lead device" that would launch with a new version of the code already installed.

It also states baldly that to profit, Google should "not develop in the open". As has been seen with Android, Google prefers to get the code working internally before it is released more widely for others to tinker with.

What is not yet clear is when the papers were drawn up, whether it was during the early days of Android or more recently.

Mr Mueller said the mention of "early access" should worry firms making handsets that run Android. It suggests, he said, that Google has a "stated commitment to a non-level playing field".

A Google spokesperson said: "We have had a "lead device" strategy publicly for years with a variety of manufacturers including HTC and Samsung".

The spokesperson cited the example of Samsung's Nexus S - the lead device for the Gingerbread release of Android co-developed by Google and Samsung.

Pete Cunningham, principal analyst at market research firm Canalys, said the, "lead device" policy had operated since the earliest days of Android.

"Every time there's been a major launch of Android, there's been a 'hero' product that comes out with it," he said.

Before now that had not meant Google playing favourites even though being a lead device usually meant greater publicity and higher sales, said Mr Cunningham.

If Google gets permission to buy Motorola's mobile unit that might mean the end of the policy of giving different manufacturers lead device status, he said.

"If Motorola get that advantage consistently then alarm bells may start ringing at those other handset makers," he said.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites