Android itself is open source and free to use, but Google’s “official” build of Android is the only one most people want to use. That’s the one that comes with the Play Store, Assistant, and all the other Google services. Device makers are supposed to get certified before bundling Google services with a phone, but some smaller companies have been trying to fly under the radar by distributing unofficial Google packages. Well, no more. Google is now blocking account logins on “uncertified” devices, which is also an added pain for users of custom ROMs.
Google’s apps are proprietary, but they’re still widely distributed online for users of custom ROMs. Unlicensed manufacturers take advantage of that as well. It’s an easy way to get Google apps on a phone without going through the certification process, but that’s potentially dangerous for users. Certification ensures phones don’t do anything fishy with your data or run forked versions of Android that can’t run common apps.
When you log into an Android device during setup, the phone reaches out to Google’s servers to get your account information. Now, the servers also check to make sure your phone is certified by Google and running official software. If it comes back as “uncertified,” you will not be able to log into your account or use any Google services. You can still use the phone without Google apps, though.
The error screen for uncertified devices does a reasonably good job of explaining the situation. It has four headings for users, unlicensed manufacturers, licensed manufacturers, and custom ROM users. For users, the page explains they have purchased a phone that wasn’t certified by Google. They’re advised to contact the vendor and get a certified device, which might not be possible if the phone came from a shady white label manufacturer. Uncertified manufacturers are directed to Google’s partner program. Licensed manufacturers should only see this on development hardware, so they need to contact Google’s business group. Lastly, there are custom ROM users. Google never certifies ROMs, but there is a workaround.
If you want to install a custom ROM on a phone, you’ll need to get your phone’s Android ID. That’s a 64-bit hex string generated each time a phone is powered on for the first time or factory reset. It’s a bit of a pain to find that — you’ll probably need a computer with the Android dev tools and a USB cable. Google has a device registration page where you enter that ID to whitelist your phone. Each account has a maximum of 100 IDs, but that should be more than enough for most ROM enthusiasts. It’s another hoop to jump through, but at least Google is providing the hoop.
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