Android 4.4+ KitKat ships without browser app. OEMs have to license Chrome or build their own

Interesting newsbit about Android 4.4 KitKat just popped-up on Twitter today.

According to Android developer and author Maximiliano Firtman, he just got official confirmation that KitKat “… doesn’t ship with any browser, just the WebView. The emulator has it but not real devices. It’s up to each vendor to create a browser app using the WebView (such as Samsung) or to get license to preinstall Chrome.”

 Android KitKat no browser

So, what does it mean for Android device users? Probably not much.

Most OEMs license full Google Apps suite for their smartphones and tablets, and they take Google’s Chrome for Android or the stock browser, as well. And those who do not, like Amazon, are perfectly able and ready to build their own browser apps too.

The decision to ship open source part of Android  without a browser is probably another part of Google’s strategy to take back the control of Android.  But it may also give an opening for other browser makers such as Firefox.

Source: Maximiliano Firtman 1, 2

Update: Yes, it is an option for OEMs to use the old stock AOSP Android browser. Just like there’s an option to use old Gmail, GCal , GSearch, etc; You are always welcome to stay with Android 4.2 or 2.2 apps, when we move on to Android 6.x with fully licensed Google Play stuff…


Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • Luke Olson

    browser is still in AOSP free and available. Way to speculate and be crazy

  • Nevi_me

    By shopping just the webview they are likely pressing the way for future updates to Chromium without waiting for manufacturers to upgrade devices. It’s a non-issue, and is likely a steep in the right direction.

  • Staska

    Well, yes. An abandonware like Android AOSP browser is always an option.

    My point was, browser just became another one of those abandoned apps like Search, Calendar or Keyboard – Google uses to make forking Android much harder:

    And I’m not saying it’s something real bad or wrong. There are arguments either way. And Google has every right to do this. Just reporting the facts

  • Luke Olson

    “KitKat ships without browser ” – nope

  • Luke Olson

    KitKat ships without browser app. OEMs have to license Chrome or build their own” – Nope

  • Staska

    Well, according to the source I quoted – it does. And nobody from Google or places I trust, has denied it, yet.

    “Shipping with browser to OEMs” and “available for anyone to download and use”, or “is part of emulator” – are different things.

    And I do apologize about too sensationalistic headline. Didn’t know about the AOSP version then, and now I think “Kitkat ships without browser to OEMs” would have been enough factually correct and sensationalistic enough.

    You live an learn. Though – linkbaity headlines is the name of the game in (tech or any other) news today. So I just hope to get better at getting facts straight in them 🙂

  • Luke Olson

    don’t hate the player hate the game. Kudos to you

  • stevenjklein

    “And those who do not, like Amazon…”
    Technically, Amazon’s devices are NOT Android devices. While the OS source code is (or was) open, the Android name is not. It can’t be used without Google’s permission, jumping through their hoops, following their rules, etc.
    Amazon’s OS is a fork of Android OS (which itself is a fork of Linux).

  • deasys

    “…part of Google’s strategy to take back the control of Android…”

    Take back CONTROL? This is bullish!t. Android is Open™.

  • John Mullaney

    A meaningless distinction, so thanks for that!

  • Bob D


  • Clement

    Players do the game.

  • Oletros

    And exactly why it is abandonware when it has been updated to use the latest iteration of chromium like the Chrome browser?

    Or it is just another fact that you missed to check?

  • Oletros

    “Well, according to the source I quoted – it does. And nobody from Google or places I trust, has denied it, yet.”

    Can you link to the source of that “source” or it is that you believe anything written on internet. Since when the burden of proof of a rumor has changed to the company target of that rumor?

    “And I do apologize about too sensationalistic headline. Didn’t know about the AOSP version then, and now I think “Kitkat ships without browser to OEMs” would have been enough factually correct”

    No, it wouldn’t been factually correct because Kitkat in fact has a full browser

  • divebus

    Apple would get center punched by the press if iOS shipped without a browser.

  • divebus

    Of course. Every walkin customer will compile their own browser.

  • Staska

    Well, yes, I did.

    I mean, I know Webkit and Chromium might be different, somehow. Beyond that, tried to research whatever I could in the time I felt I had, then published it.

    And, AFAIK, the point I was trying to get across: “Here’s another step in Google’s strategy to take over Android by making OEMs that use main Google apps into licensees,leaving everyone else with old AOSP versions” – still stands

  • Staska

    … “Can you link to the source of that “source” or it is that you believe anything written on internet. Since when the burden of proof of a rumor has changed to the company target of that rumor?”

    I already linked to my source in the article. Who explicitly states he’s talked to someone from Google who did confirm this. Then it comes down to – how much do I trust the person making that claim.

    And I do not believe in just any rumor from anywhere. Have been about this stuff for a while, and rely on my experience to tell stupid rumor from really possible thing. E.g. – like LG making Nexus 5, when LG exec explicitly denied it last spring:

  • Staska
  • Khürt L. Williams

    Meaningless? How. If I’m trying to sell the non-technical consumer who already has an Android phone a tablet, being able to tell that consumer “it’s Android. It’ll run your apps fine” is great. Explaining to that consumer that “it’s not Android but it is but …”. It matters.

  • jameskatt

    Firefox should be the default browser on Android.

  • Staska

    Why? Just tried it, and except for plugins, couldn’t find a single reason I was wrong to switch from FF at V2 or 3 to Chrome. And they are even worse at mobile

  • farticustheelder

    OEM might like to try an ad-blocking browser. This would certainly help boost sales, might even cause Google to pay them to run Chrome.

  • Al F

    True, but the situation is a bit different. Depending on your perspective, Apple is either much better, or much worse.

    If you look at it from a hardware perspective, Apple is the sole distributor of iOS devices, and buying any iOS device includes Safari. Similarly, as long as you limit yourself to buying an Android device directly from Google, it includes Chrome.

    Or if you look at it from a free software perspective, only Darwin is open-source, and not even most of the basic frameworks that make it at all usable as iOS — much less a web browser. Then again, Webkit (the basis for virtually all mobile web browsers today, including Android’s) was largely developed by Apple.

    You can’t directly compare licensing changes in Android with iOS. They’re fundamentally different.

  • deasys

    Sorry, Staska. I forgot the sarcasm tags in my comment…

  • divebus

    All true but I was commenting on the instant furror reserved for Apple if they did something like this – optionally ceding control over your mobile web experience to the greedy carriers.

  • Luke Olson

    The OEMs already do. Aside from the nexus line and the the latest motorola phones Chrome has never been installed. Samsung and htc has always Shipped thier own tweaked version of the AOSP browser. Motorola was the first and still only OEM to ship with chrome preinstalled a year ago.

  • mikemike9

    Why are you bothering to sell it? Does Amazon pay you to do that?

    All you need to tell someone is that ‘it is based on Android but you get your apps from the Amazon App Store’. Anything more than that is Amazon’s job, surely?

    As tech people we should stop trying to ‘sell’ people on anything we aren’t being paid to sell, stop joining teams, and focus on our own endeavours.

  • Al F

    My point is that Apple fundamentally can’t do “something like this”. Google requiring HTC to license Chrome (or build their own) would be like Apple requiring Apple to license Safari. It’s a nonsense statement.

  • shigmas

    I don’t see where you point out the author’s error in regards to OEM’s.

    AOSP apps have not been updated by Google since they started shipping their own branded versions. In an ideal world, they’ll just diverge, but with competing OEM’s, the maintenance doesn’t really get back to the AOSP version anymore.

  • Luke Olson

    “AOSP apps have not been updated by Google since they sstarted” -nope.,n,z

    Also none of the OEMs use the standard aosp apps, they build their own version and don’t contribute back to aosp.

  • divebus

    Of course they could do something like this, but they wouldn’t. If they dropped the browser or mail client and told the carriers that an extra license fee would be required to either restore them or let them put their own ginchy version of Firefox on, everyone would thing Apple had lost their minds.

    I get your point, though. I didn’t read this as a money grab by Google. Why would they do that?

  • orthorim

    Well yeah obviously Google has zero interest in Android actually being open source. It’s not going to make them any money now is it. They just use it as a marketing gimmick towards OEMs (customers could care less). OEMS have the added safety that should Google go crazy, they can take over the code base and brew their own.
    In reality though, that’s going to take more and more effort and in fact given Google’s speed of development it would all but ensure that forkers of Android will be behind the curve within a year as they can’t keep up.

    Amazon was able to pull it off because they really don’t care about any Google apps and they have a specialized device they want to control. For Google, that’s neither good nor bad. They just don’t want to have any phone makers do their own.

  • MaciekBaron

    I don’t think you understand, you’ll never get an Android phone without a browser. In the majority of cases you will get Chrome, but producers can create their own browsers or licence a different one. We’re talking about the OS that is offered to the OEMs, not the one offered to users (although of course you can root your device, download a vanilla version of the OS and install it on your device – in that particular case you might not get a browser straight away).
    Shipping iOS without a browser would have been a completely, completely different situation (i.e. you get a device without a browser).

  • AaronD12

    This is exactly what Google needs to do: License the entire OS. Make the rest of it closed-source. They are giving Samsung (Samesung?) and other Android phone/tablet manufacturers BILLIONS of dollars by giving them a free operating system. What’s Google getting out of it? Believe it or not, less revenue than their apps on iOS devices! (reference: What would Samesung and the others do without Android? Develop their own OS? Not likely. They are riding on Google’s coattails and they know it. Google’s just capitalizing on this now.

  • Rob

    I’m having trouble figuring out who this would actually hurt. For manufacturers that already license Google’s Android additions (read: everyone that makes Android devices) this isn’t a change at all. Unless it’s one of those cheap-o phones running Gingerbread, they already bundle Chrome. For manufacturers that don’t pay the license (read: Amazon) they’re already building their own browser.

    Are there any examples of a manufacturer that will be significantly affected by this?

  • Rob

    > making OEMs that use main Google apps into licensees

    What OEMs currently bundle Chrome but don’t license the main Google apps?

  • Rob

    “which itself is a fork of Linux”

    Not really. Android’s kernel is forked from Linux (and changes are regularly passed in both directions), but the vast majority of what is considered “Linux” (read: GNU) isn’t present. What really makes Android “Android” was built on top of the kernel.