In the race to become the global leader in mobile operating systems, it is a general consensus that Android OS is a real contender with the lion’s share in the mobile device market quickly garnered being a relative newcomer. Android’s lineup of devices has fared remarkably well in the workplace too, though the topic of whether Google can outshine the Cupertino giant in terms of enterprise offerings is up for debate now. The open-source software stack, the object-oriented architecture based on the mature Java language, and the swift integration with Google’s extensive services are the major causes behind the reliable and consistent user experience provided by Android.
Whether it be a consumer device or an enterprise device, users cannot afford to lose any pre-loaded apps or services that they expect to be available right out of the box. Google Mobile Services (GMS) offers such a set of pre-installed apps and services meant to boost the productivity of certified Android devices. GMS certification is the process of verification that all the Google proprietary apps and services work properly as most standard Android devices do, and everything essential comes pre-shared.
GMS certification is an often-overlooked factor when it comes to choosing the ideal hardware for your business. To choose wisely and put the highest quality devices to the ecosystem, one must have a good understanding of what GMS certification is and what it means for Android systems, especially when used as dedicated devices. Here, we attempt to scrutinize whether GMS certification is the greatest blessing or the darkest curse for Android device users.
What is Google Mobile Services (GMS)?
Google Mobile Services (GMS) is a suite of secure, collaboration and productivity apps and APIs powered by Google to ensure a consistent user experience across all Android devices. Apart from a variety of Google-branded apps, GMS provides APIs required for running other mainstream applications that don’t fall under its array. So, without GMS, the functioning of other apps can also get affected. All the offered apps and services are developed and owned by Google and built on top of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) to pack the very essence of Google into the Android system.
Popular apps like Google Play Store, Search, Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, Hangouts, Google Maps, Calendar, etc. typically comes under the GMS package though there will be regional variations based on country availability and licensing requirements. Major GMS capabilities include Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM), SafetyNet APIs, location APIs, etc. Integrating GMS into the Android system requires a fee per device for the OEMs. What the end users have to pay depends on a particular application’s/service’s requirements though all Google Mobile Services are generally free to use for the consumer set.
Advantages of GMS:
- Increased efficiency due to a large bulk of productivity apps.
- Over-the-air updates.
- Consistency and uniform functionality across multiple devices.
- Google guidelines and support to ensure security.
- Services to ensure the proper functioning of other mainstream apps.
Is GMS a part of the Android operating system?
Android consists of two independent sections, namely the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and the Google Mobile Services (GMS). The former corresponds to the basic operating system, and the latter can be considered an add on to it.
Core Android OS by itself doesn’t support some mechanisms and features necessary for enterprises though it provides device-level functionalities like emailing. So, in order to provide these additional requirements, GMS is built on top of the OS and hence is not a part of the Android operating system. Unlike the Android operating system, GMS is not open source and is a different product. GMS is not for all types of devices. It can only be added by obtaining a license with Google. It is possible for a device running the Android operating system to work without including GMS within it.
What is GMS certification?
The GMS certification is Google’s stamp of approval that a device meets all the specifications and requirements recommended by Google. Any device is GMS certified as a confirmation that Google apps and services run correctly on them. GMS certification is not a mandatory requirement for Android devices to be made and sold in the market; however, Google proprietary apps don’t come pre-installed, and major Google services don’t function as desired on non-certified devices.
GMS certification is a deal between manufacturers and Google. In addition to getting the brand certified, manufacturers have to get each of their models GMS certified before their retail distribution in order to launch them with the GMS suite of apps and services. Obtaining GMS certification often involves a time consuming and expensive road, especially for device makers who are not a top Android OEM. In order to be approved and certified by Google, the device must pass through a series of tests like Compatibility Test Suite (CTS), CTS Audio Quality Test Suite (CAT), GMS Test Suite (GTS), and so on. Both the hardware and software of the system will be thoroughly examined and validated to ensure that they meet Google standards in terms of performance, quality, and reliability.
GMS license vs. GMS certification
GMS license is not to be confused with GMS certification and is simply the permission for manufacturers to distribute the Google suite of apps and services with their devices. Also known as Mobile Application Distribution Agreement (MADA), a GMS license is granted to an OEM/manufacturer/distributor when they apply for it and successfully completes Google’s review process. GMS license is one of the pre-requisites for GMS certification. Simply put, the main difference between GMS license and GMS certification is that the GMS license is for manufacturers or brands, while GMS certification is for the devices manufactured by these device makers.
How to obtain GMS certification?
Initially, only manufacturers having a proper MADA license (GMS license) from Google were able to obtain GMS certification for their Android hardware. This norm made it difficult for smaller manufacturers to get the certification as Google generally doesn’t provide MADA for such brands. Later, as an easy solution to obtain GMS certification for brands without MADA, Google designated some GMS partner engineering companies to provide hardware for small-scale firms looking to manufacture GMS certified devices. Another factor is that only devices running the current stable or preceding OS versions are eligible to obtain GMS certification.
Applying for and obtaining GMS certification is not a simple process but involves different steps, some of which are very complicated as compared to others. Here is a quick overview of the development cycle an OEM should go through in order to launch Android devices with GMS certification.
Step-1: Initial phase
The product development cycle begins with the initial phase, where the product design and conceptualization are made. Everything regarding the hardware and software of the product is decided. It is imperative to consider making decisions on GMS certification and budget for the process at this phase itself to avoid any losses generated at a later stage.
Step-2: GMS pre-check phase
In this phase, the decided hardware, software, and mechanical requirements for the product are compared with the Google recommendations listed in CDD to evaluate whether it can adhere to the Google standards. It is better to consult with a GMS expert to avoid any discrepancies at a later stage.
Step-3: Development phase
Generally, the software implementation is started once the product specifications are found meeting all the Google recommendations. Sometimes, the GMS pre-check and development can go in parallel.
Step-4: Testing phase
After the product is ready with Android ported on it, they are required to pass a series of tests. The test suites validate the compatibility of the operating system and Google services, device performance, and security and reveal any incompatibilities if present. There are Google approved labs which provide independent testing. For quality analysis, the manufacturer should approach a testing center that is certified by Google. The mandatory tests through which the device passes through to guarantee high-quality performance includes:
- Compatibility Test Suite (CTS) – Also known as Android Compatibility Tests, CTS helps reveal incompatibilities early on by running more than 300 K unit test cases. CTS helps to verify the compatibility of the device’s hardware and software. It consists of a set of tests like signature tests, platform API tests, platform resources, platform permissions, and so on.
- Compatibility Test Suite Verifier (CTS-V) – After completing the CTS, the device undergoes Compatibility Test Suite Verifier (CTS-V) to verify the Android compatibility further. It is a manual testing tool that allows the validation of functions and APIs that are unable to be tested without manual input. Device camera, sensors, touch screen, audio, etc. are manually tested using this tool.
- Vendor Test Suite (VTS) – Checks the compatibility of the OEM device and the Android system aiming at the lower layer of the Android architecture. VTS consists of a set of test cases that are intended to improve the performance and compatibility of the Android system. It automates the HAL and OS kernel testing with test sets that are automated or structural. It encourages a test-driven development process.
- CTS Audio Quality Test Suite (CAT) – Helps validate the recording quality and audio playback capabilities of devices. CAT verifies the audio quality of the device without requiring full-fledged test environments.
- GMS Test Suite (GTS) – Tests the compatibility of Google proprietary apps with the device. This automated test verifies whether the GMS apps have been appropriately integrated and ensure user data security with a few security-related tests.
- Security Test Suite (STS) – Checks for security vulnerabilities and ensure the safety of the device. It guarantees that the devices are safe and vulnerabilities have been fixed correctly. It is updated monthly, and so device makers can undo any latest type of bugs identified in the system.
Step-5: Submission Phase
After the devices pass all the test suites, they are submitted to third-party logistics (3PLs) for certification. Third-party logistics are Google-approved laboratories and are authorized to provide GMS certification on behalf of Google. After the verification from third-party logistics, the result is sent to Google to approve the GMS certification.
Step-6: Approval Phase
Google approves the GMS certification, and the device details will be registered with Google.
Step-7: Product Launching Phase
The product will be launched in the market with all the approved GMS apps and services.
PROs and CONs of GMS certification
Regardless of the use case, many of the consumer-grade Android products will definitely benefit from GMS certification. Still, there are a few concerns when it comes to enterprise use cases. Knowing the actual benefits and drawbacks is necessary for businesses to check whether to embrace GMS certification or keep it off their devices.
- Provides Google supported security and management features necessary for any business.
- GMS devices are loaded with the latest version or the preceding version of Android OS, so little to no security flaws are experienced.
- GMS devices get monthly security patch updates.
- GMS devices come with a broad mix of apps and access to the Google Play Store, which can be controlled using a UEM solution.
- GMS devices come with commonly used APIs like location services.
- Android Enterprise is supported to integrate with UEM solutions for better device management.
- Application stability and over-the-air updates.
- Leaves a backdoor for Google into the device, which causes privacy concerns.
- A large portion of the available RAM and ROM space would be used by the pre-loaded apps.
- Forced software updates and apps utilize extra resources.
- Google Play Store opens doors for easy malware distribution.
- Devices must pass through a complex suite of tests that costs a lot of time and money for device makers.
- No support for older Android versions.
- Limit options for device customization.
GMS in the enterprise
Enterprise devices don’t always need to be GMS certified but deciding between GMS and non-GMS devices depend upon the business use cases.
Business scenarios requiring GMS devices
There are obvious situations where enterprise customers need to use GMS-certified devices.
- Companies require downloading at least one or a few applications from the Google Play Store, seamlessly updating, managing and securing these apps.
- Companies having to use applications or services depending on GMS APIs like Google Location Services.
- Companies having to quickly receive the API updates from Google without using any third-party services.
- Companies having to handle a variety of device types, including corporate-owned and personal devices.
Enterprise applications of non-GMS devices
Work devices always need not be GMS certified. There are instances where organizations can work perfectly fine with non-GMS devices.
- Companies requiring purpose-built devices for specific use cases may need non-GMS devices as they can offer better flexibility to be configured for the non-standard applications.
- Companies using Android applications which don’t depend on Google APIs. In case if they need applications depending on APIs they don’t need to be constantly updated.
- Companies using rugged devices in industries like construction and retail for applications like field services and logistics. These devices might require only their own particular work apps.
- SMBs looking for low price devices which are flexible for any of their particular requirements.
However, when it comes to the management requirements for the enterprise devices, GMS devices are the better option as Android Enterprise is officially supported only on devices having GMS certification. The only alternative to manage non-GMS devices is to use Device Admin API, which is mostly deprecated, causing difficulty in managing them.
By default, Android Enterprise management APIs are built into all certified Android devices. With the help of a UEM solution, GMS devices can be granularly managed according to their unique deployment scenarios, with the fully managed, work profile, or dedicated device management modes of Android Enterprise.
UEM solutions like Hexnode provide extensive management options for both GMS and non-GMS devices though Android Enterprise is officially supported only on GMS certified devices. Hexnode UEM give businesses the flexibility to provision, deploy, and secure purpose-built devices to fit any use case and manage the entire life cycle of GMS certified as well as non-GMS Android devices.