Google has reportedly started blocking access to its official apps (Maps, Chrome, Play Store etc) on uncertified Android devices. This change went into effect March 16th and affects any software builds made after this date.

The development was first reported by XDA Developers, where developers who work on custom ROMs (unofficial tweaked versions of the OS) were unable to sign into their Google accounts on devices running an unofficial build of the operating system.

Google is now checking the build date of your Android system image when you attempt to run Google apps. If you have an uncertified device and you’re running a version of the Android OS that was compiled after March 16th, 2018, Google apps won’t work. Even if you manage to sideload these apps (install from external sources) you won’t be able to run them.

Google is offering custom ROM users a workaround though. They can now register their device with a provided Android ID to allow Google apps to run on a device. There’s a 100 device limit per user, which shouldn’t be an issue for most users but ROM testers, developers might have issues though.

Google trying to lock Android down?

While Android is an open-source operating system, the nature of its openness has been knocked down bit-by-bit by Google. While devices running Amazon’s Fire OS and a Xiaomi’s MiUI (in China) are technically ‘Android devices’ these are running highly customised versions of the Operating System with all the ‘Googleness’ ripped out. Google sees this as a key differentiator between what is Google’s blessed version of Android and what is the ‘open version’. If you want Google’s multitude of services you better play nice with the company and they’ll grant you a license. Users could always circumvent this issue with simply sideloading Google’s apps using the installer files but now Google seems to have shut that avenue down.

Google’s argument in favour of tightening the screws has been that the Android ecosystem has been too fragmented and too much of a pain for app developers. By making everyone conform to certain standards Google hopes to reduce this fragmentation.

The one good that could come out of this is that custom ROM users may finally have an avenue to access official versions of Google apps that update without issues without having to bother with sideloading and shady file sharing sites.