It may not be as ubiquitous as its smartphone original, especially in a volatile TV market, but Android TV admittedly has the lion’s share of the smart TV market. That’s not exactly surprising given the different forms Google’s platform takes, from dongles to actual hulking TVs. It isn’t the only option in the market, of course, but one long-time rival is curiously absent from the TV segment. Amazon’s Fire TV has been unable to outgrow its dongle and set-top box forms and sources say it’s because of Google’s questionable tactics.
It’s not that Amazon doesn’t want to be on larger screens. Heck, it probably wants to be everywhere as much as possible. The problem is that TV manufacturers aren’t coming to it to install its Android-based Fire TV platform on their TVs and that, according to industry insiders, is because of contracts with Google that prevent them from doing so if they even want to have Android TV at all.
At the heart of this seemingly anti-competitive practice is the Android Compatibility Commitment, the very same set of policies that Google has effectively used to prevent Android on smartphones from fragmenting into a hundred different flavors. In a nutshell, OEMs have to comply with these rules if they want their devices certified to ship with Google Play Store. And as Huawei is finding out the hard way, that technically optional part of Android is actually critical to a device’s retail success, even on TVs.
That compatibility agreement, however, has special provisions for Android TV, provisions that tell manufacturers they can’t make devices based on forked and uncertified versions of Android, like Amazon’s Fire TV. Furthermore, that agreement actually applies across device categories so smartphone makers who ship certified Android devices are also not allowed to build smart TVs running Amazon’s platform.
Neither Google nor Amazon has commented on the report but a senior employee of a TV maker says it’s pretty much the industry’s dirty secret and everyone seems fine playing by those rules. It’s definitely an odd situation given how much trouble Google has gotten into for similar accusations in other device categories and businesses. Whether that will remain the case will largely depend on whether anti-trust bodies will look into the matter deeper.