Yandex Offers Fee-Free Android Firmware Kit So OEMs Can Ditch Google Services

Continuing to diversify beyond search, Russian tech giant Yandex has today launched a complete firmware kit for Android smartphones — called Yandex.Kit — that offers an alternative suite of Yandex services for OEMs and carriers wanting to try their hand at going it alone without Google.

How can they do that? By building on the open source flavour of Android that does not come packaged up with Mountain View’s software. Yandex then steps in with its kit to make it easier for device makers to ditch the Google-flavoured version of Android by substituting its own suite of essential apps and features.

In a blog post announcing the new Kit, Yandex described it as “a comprehensive, out-of-the-box solution, versatile and technologically honed enough to be offered to original device manufacturers as firmware that they can install on their devices shipped to the Russian market”.

The kit is fee-free, and while Yandex is obviously targeting Russian device makers and mobile carriers who want a more locally flavoured set of services to Google, it is also targeting international B2B clients by offering “deep customisation” for parts of the kit — such as the ability to brand the app store and have the specific device maker’s/carrier’s own apps featured (i.e. rather than having to stick with Google’s branding and whatever Google wants to feature in its Play Store).

Apps and services in the full kit include Yandex Search; its webmail app Yandex.Mail; maps via Yandex.Maps; the Yandex.Store (which has some 100,000 Android apps vs Google Play’s one million+); a 3D homescreen launcher based on Yandex.Shell; the Yandex.Browser mobile browser; and a dialer which uses information from Yandex’s Business Directory to identify a caller’s number even if they aren’t one of the user’s contacts.

For OEMs targeting markets outside Russia the kit consists of a trio of Yandex products: Yandex.Shell UI, Yandex.Browser and Yandex.Store, which can presumably then be paired with other offerings — Nokia’s HERE maps might be one Google maps alternative, for instance.

Users of the Yandex.Store in the Yandex.Kit package get a 10% rebate from each app purchase that feeds into a rebate account for purchasing more apps — which is one way to compensate them for getting fewer apps on instant tap than they would if their handset had Gogole Play. The Yandex.Store’s 70/30 revenue share scheme on app sales between developers and itself also gives a cut to the manufacturer/device provider using the Yandex.Kit — as a further incentive for them to switch away from Google.

Google’s Android mobile OS is both hugely dominant in marketshare, taking close to 80% of smartphone OS shipments last year according to Strategy Analytics, but is also showing signs of slowing growth, with the analyst saying 2013 saw it grow at its lowest rate yet. So there is perhaps likely to be increased appetite for building different experiences on top of Android, via the Android Open Source Project foundation — which means still getting access to the Android app ecosystem (unlike rival platforms such as Windows Phone), but also being able to offer different native services as a way to differentiate handsets and stand out in the Android crowd. (This is of course what scores of Chinese OEMs already do.)

Yandex said it already has two customers for the firmware kit, who will be showing devices at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona next week. These are Chinese OEM Huawei and Russian device maker Explay. Yandex said both makers will launch their Yandex-flavoured Android handsets in Russia in March.