Google is once again flexing its muscles.
After a game of brinkmanship with Samsung earlier this year, which saw it win out in a battle over increasing customisation of its Android operating system, the search is now said to be demanding greater space for its own apps from key licensees.
In a leaked document, the Mountain View-based company outlines plans to boost the number of native Google apps required on Android phones to 20.
That’s more than double the number found on key phones from HTC, Samsung, Sony and LG.
What’s more, it wants more prominent placing for said apps and for its search tool to be made more obvious.
It comes at a time when Google is looking to push its stock Android offering even harder.
Motorola said just last week it sees no reason why it should change the OS and has left it unadulterated on its new flagship Moto X.
Google Play Editions of key phones, such as the HTC One (M8), are becoming more easily available too.
Leaked terms and conditions of Google’s licensing arrangements appeared earlier this year and showed that the company would not tolerate manufacturers ditching its apps or cherry picking some and dumping others.
Now it’s upping the number of apps, manufacturers will have little choice but to play ball or look elsewhere.
And that seems unlikely what with Windows Phone’s poor adoption rates and Tizen seemingly already being overlooked by Samsung.
Viewed in a wider context, this move is clearly designed to try and bring an end to Google’s partners tweaking its OS out of recognition.
Google seems to feel that these custom skins hamper update times, leaving its OS fragmented when compared with Apple’s iOS.
But getting the genie back in the bottle is not going to be easy.
Why should Samsung, HTC, Sony and LG all offer phones with essentially the same software?
Hardware differentiations are getting harder and harder and software remains the cornerstone of a smartphone’s appeal.
It’s all about apps and how those apps work on your device.
Of course, all Android phones run Google apps, but customisation at least allows rival phone makers to stand out from the crowd.
The problem they’ve got is that stock Android is now way beyond anything they’re producing and always will be.
It’s Google’s key focus and it will always be able to produce better products than smaller in–house teams in its partners’ offices.
Google has its work cut out to bring its manufacturers into line.
But as it’s shown with Android One, aka Google’s Indian project for wresting back control of Android and delivering its services to users, it can be done.
With the threat of iOS growing once again, it needs all the companies it works with to start singing from the same hymn sheet.