No, Android phone makers don't pay Google licensing fees to use Google apps
Google has refuted a story that claims the company collects licensing fees from Android phone makers for key apps such as Gmail and Maps.
The story, published by The Guardian, originally claimed that Google charges roughly 75 cents per phone that uses Google Mobile Services. Those services include the Google Play Store and all Google-branded apps, including Google Play Music, Hangouts, and Google Drive.
However, The Guardian has since amended its story, removing all references to the supposed licensing costs. Google also told 9to5Google that the story was inaccurate.
The Guardian still claims that Android isn't as “free” as many people believe, considering the testing costs involved with getting a Google Mobile Services license. 9to5Google noted that device makers could also pay licensing fees to the search giant for settlements or other arrangements, but not for those key Google apps.
Anxiety over AOSP
It's a bit of a touchy subject, as Google slows down development on apps that are part of the Android Open Source Project.
As Ars Technica pointed out last October, Google is gradually replacing these core apps with proprietary versions that are part of Google Mobile Services. For example, Android's stock Music app looks the same as it did in 2010, while Google has actively been developing Google Play Music instead. And while Google Keyboard continues to get new features such as gesture typing, the open source Android keyboard has stagnated.
This shift away from open source is in some ways good for users. It means that Google can update a greater portion of the Android experience directly through the Play Store, bypassing hardware makers and wireless carriers who often take ages to update their devices. But it also discourages heavily-modified Android devices such as Amazon's Kindle Fire, since device makers would have to create more core apps from scratch.
If Google was to start charging license fees for Google Mobile Services, most device makers would have little choice but to pay, as the Google Play Store's extensive catalog makes Android the most viable alternative to Apple's iPhone. Fortunately, Google is doing no such thing.