GMS, what is it? How does it affect Android devices? Do you really need it? Chances are you’re reading this because those are all questions you have been asking yourself (either that or you’re subscribed to our newsletter). Over the next few blogs we aim to look at the history of the Android OS and break down its key areas to see how it compares against other operating systems. In this first part we will look at what GMS is and how it affects Android devices. We will also be looking at the facts about Google Mobile Services (GMS) in the Enterprise to help determine whether or not you really need it.
What is GMS?
GMS is short for Google Mobile Services and essentially is all of the Google specific features that you see on Android devices. Google Maps, YouTube and the Play Store are just a few examples of GMS products which you are probably familiar with. GMS also brings in a bunch of integration tools and utilities for developers.
Most modern Android based consumer grade products such as smartphones, tablets and wearables will include GMS. You may have thought that GMS was simply a part of Android and was included as standard, after all Android is also owned by Google. However GMS is actually a separate product and unlike Android is not open source, instead it is closed source software that requires a license. This license requires both the device and its manufacturer to meet strict technical certification and obligations. This is just one of the ways that Google is able to make a profit out of Android.
Most manufacturers realise the value of GMS and include it on their consumer products, realistically a non GMS smartphone in this day would be considered pretty poor. Imagine the limitations of not being able to download apps, watch videos on YouTube and use maps. However there are a number of reasons why non-consumer grade products may benefit without GMS.
A selection of GMS apps and features:
Why would you not want GMS?
As mentioned above the majority of consumer grade Android products will benefit from GMS, there is a few expectations with things like vehicle entertainment systems, television sets and devices that are not connected to the internet as they simply will not utilise the features of GMS. However when we look away from consumer grade products and focus on enterprise/ business use devices the situation is very different.
Without trying to make Google sound like some kind of evil cooperation there are a number of reasons why companies would prefer to keep GMS off of their devices, many of these reasons are around the privacy of data as GMS leaves a “backdoor” for Google into the device.
GMS Issues for Enterprise customers
- Privacy & security concerns – GMS periodically connects to Google’s servers, this is part of the user agreement that must be accepted in order to use a GMS enabled device. As you can probably imagine this puts off a lot of companies who do not want their potentially sensitive data being monitored.
- Forced application and GMS software updates – This process not only uses extra resources (network bandwidth, device performance) but it can also leave apps in unknown state if bugs or issues are present in a newer version. Many companies like to test out updates before releasing them onto their fleet of devices as any issues can cause downtime which in turn leads to lost productivity and ultimately revenue.
- Built in advertising engine and data profiling – This is again something that business customers want to avoid, it makes sense to collect user data of this sort on consumer devices as the end user may see actually benefits (targeted marketing.etc) However on a business level this is simply adding a unnecessary level data collection that will not benefit the user.
- Play Store allows easy malware distribution – Many enterprise customers request that the Google Play Store is disable straight away on GMS devices as it allows any malicious applications to easily be downloaded and distributed across their device fleet. Again causing downtime, potentially sensitive data leaks and lost revenue.
- Preinstalled Bloatware – GMS add 25+ mandatory apps that occupy 60-200 MB of RAM, the majority of which will never be utilised by enterprise customers.
- Logistics overhead out of box – A GMS device requires additional steps for the initial setup of the device, this not only uses up valuable time but it also requires the user to have a Google account. What makes this even more challenging is the account cannot be shared across multiple devices which then creates a large admin task to setup the companies devices (imagine a fleet of 100+).
- Mandatory welcome screen on first setup – Enterprise customers wanting to use rapid provisioning / staging tools will have to manually interact with every device before being able to proceed, again this creates a particular issue for large fleets.
GMS challenges for Enterprise vendors
On top of creating a list of issues for enterprise/ business users GMS also creates some challenges for device vendors and OEM’s. When paired with the above issues that GMS creates many vendors will simply opt out of bringing GMS to their devices. We are now seeing an increase in vendors who release GMS and non-GMS versions of the same device in order to satisfy a larger market, the vendor’s non-GMS versions must still be CTS compliant (see below).
The main challenge for vendors is around the certification and special licences that Google require :
Both the vendor and device must meet Google’s technical requirements and obligations – This can limit how the vendor can manufacturer and offer other devices, in some cases Google may restrict them from releasing a non-GMS version of the same device.
Device must pass compatibility test suite (CTS) –
- This test defines what device must do and must not do.
- The CTS was not designed for enterprise use as it limits rapid deployments / staging, device management solutions and security.etc.
Limits vendors options for device customisation and market strategy – As covered in the customer limitations, vendors must comply to the Google out of box experience. This limits provisioning for rapid device deployment and creates a larger admin task for company IT departments.
Finally once a device has passed the above compatibility tests it can then be sent to a Google authorised centre for certification, this process can cost a considerable amount of money.
Can GMS be disabled?
So you’re probably now wondering whether or not GMS can be disabled. The good news is yes, however Google has not made it easy for users to do so.
The OEM is not allowed to add a toggle to disable GMS on the device, instead the customer is required to manually shut down all of the Google services which GMS utilises. This can take a significant amount of time especially when there are multiple devices to deal with.
Is it all bad?
Hopefully this information has helped to outline the facts about Google Mobile Services (GMS) in the Enterprise, clear up any questions that you may have had and help you to decide whether or not you really need GMS when looking for a device. We would like to make it clear that GMS definitely has its place in the Android world, for now at least it just seems better suited to consumer grade devices. However there are obviously a number of instances where enterprise customers may want some of the GMS features:
- Customers who use one or more applications from the Google Play Store and prefer the ability to download, update and manage their content through GMS.
- Companies who will not be affected by the manual setup of each device (usually those who have the resources on hand to deal with the initial setup).
If you have any questions about GMS, Android or a particular device then get in touch to speak with an expert.