Credit: David Imel / Android Authority
If you’re wondering who owns Android, it’s tempting to point to Google and just leave it there. However, it is not that simple. Although Google owns Android at the basic level, many companies share the responsibilities for the operating system – no one fully defines the operating system on every phone.
Who actually owns Android?
If you just want to know who owns Android in mind, there’s no mystery: it’s Google. The company bought Android, Inc. in 2005 and helped promote the operating system before the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1, arrived in 2008. Google is the main developer of the operating system and works on important proprietary elements such as Google Play Services. and official apps such as Gmail. If you buy a Pixel phone, you will find that Google pretty much owns the entire Android operating system apart from the hardware drivers.
Google is also responsible for the major releases of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). While other parties are free to modify or contribute to the AOSP source code, they are not the ones who deliver major milestones. Unlike the decentralized Linux, it is Google that ultimately powers the Android operating system, even if it is not the one who owns the last bit of code.
Who else has a share in Android OS?
Once Google releases an AOSP version, ownership gets more complicated. The operating system on many Android devices is essentially owned by Google, but it is often the product of heavy customization by manufacturers. Samsung’s One UI is a good example: it may be based on Android, but the look, interface and features are largely Samsung’s.
There are also some versions of Android with only a modest link to Google. Amazon’s Fire OS, for example, is a forked version of AOSP that does not use any of Google’s proprietary components and is, in fact, Amazon’s responsibility. It’s also quite common for Chinese vendors such as Huawei, who can’t use Google’s own apps in their home countries, to develop highly customized Android versions that Google has relatively little control over.
This does not leave Google completely out of the picture. Companies like Amazon and Huawei often base their OS releases on updates from Google. However, it is not Google’s responsibility to maintain those platforms. In that light, the question of who owns Android is determined by who uses the operating system.