What used to be impossible is now possible, but only in Europe.
But first, a bit of context. After being fined $5 billion by the European Commission for violating EU antitrust rules, Google introduced looser licensing agreements to hardware makers (OEMs) allowing them to ship Android devices in Europe without Google’s search engine and Chrome browser pre-installed.
However, there was a catch: although the Android operating system will remain free and open source, the hardware manufacturers that chose not to pre-install Google’s search engine and browser will have to pay the Mountain View, California-based technology giant a license fee in Europe for access to the Google Play Store and the millions of apps it contains.
Interestingly, the license fee option is not available in other regions of the world, including the Americas, Africa or Asia. And in China, Google is simply turning a blind eye—not charging OEMs anything—to avoid losing the huge smartphone market to homegrown Android copy-cats or worse, to Apple.
A privacy-first smartphone
So far, no OEMs had tested Google’s new licensing scheme and dare to release an Android device sans Google—until last week, that is, when French smartphone maker Wiko unveiled a mid-range device, the View 2 Pro Qwant, with Qwant’s privacy-first browser and search engine pre-installed.
“Wiko plans to distribute the View2 Pro Qwant in France, Germany, and Italy,” told me Julien Heang, the COO of Wiko at the launch event in Paris last week. “It’s a trial project which will help us decide whether we’ll have Qwant editions on future models.”
Qwant’s claim to fame is that its search engine doesn’t track its users and respect their privacy.
“We don’t want to know who you are when you do searches on Qwant. Actually, we don’t need to know anything about you or your browsing history in order to display our contextual ads alongside our search results,” told me Eric Leandri, the CEO of the European search engine who was also attending the Wiko launch. Qwant is working on more privacy-first services including Maps and Mail.
In and of itself, Wikio’s 6-inch View 2 Pro Qwant smartphone is a decent device for $200. It’s powered by an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 with dual-cameras, Android 8.0 (Oreo), 4 GB of memory and 64 GB of storage that you can expand using an optional microSD card.
Although Wiko’s device comes with Chrome or Google search, it does include the rest of the Google Mobile Services (GMS) including Google Play Store, Google Maps, Gmail, etc.
And because the View2 Pro Qwant is certified by Google as a European MADA (Mobile Application Distribution Agreement) type 1 device, it will also receive Google’s regular security updates.
Finally, according to my sources in the industry, Wiko is paying Google about $5 per device or 2.5% of the smartphone price for the licensing fee.