Android is free to device makers, but it seems there are a few catches.
A couple of documents examined by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday show that Android phone and tablet makers must adhere to a strict set of conditions if they want access to key apps when adopting Google's free and open mobile operating system. Device manufacturers are required to preinstall certain Google apps, set Google as the default search provider, and ensure that the Search and Play Store icons are placed "at least on the panel immediately adjacent to the Default Home Screen," according to the documents.
The documents cited are Google's agreements with Samsung and HTC. Published by Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman on Wednesday, the Mobile Application Distribution Agreement (MADA) documents surfaced as part of a 2012 patent suit between Google and Oracle. Full terms of such agreements haven't previously been disclosed, said the Journal.
There is one major caveat here. The cited agreements with Samsung and HTC cover only 2011 and 2012. Google continues to use similar agreements, the Journal claimed, but it's unknown whether all of the same restrictions still apply.
The Journal also noted that device makers don't have to accept Google's terms. Device makers -- like Amazon with its Kindle Fire tablets -- can build devices that use customized versions of Android that don't include access to the Google Play store or other key Google apps.
CNET contacted Google for comment and will update the story with any further details.
Update, 8:39 a.m. PT: Clarified that device makers must agree to Google's terms if they want access to key applications like Google Play.