Mobile Imprints

Have to say that i agree with quite a bit of this post, especially this opening paragraph:

Google isn’t a web application company—they’re an advertising company. That’s what they do best, and that’s what drives their company. Of Google’s $23.6 billion of revenue in 2009, all but $760 million of it was derived from advertising, and nearly 70 percent of it was from Google’s own websites.

Everything Google does must be understood within this context.

Friends working there don’t seem to feel that they are working in advertising, and that makes perfect sense. One would imagine that the people that built printing presses didn’t feel like they were in the publishing business. (You really don’t want to know how many similar analogies i went through before finding one that was not, let us say, inflammatory.)

To the extent that that Google is planning a scorched earth policy for the mobile market, it would be my feeling that this piece ‘over rotates’. What is described is obviously the extreme position, it would be more likely that the truth (and consequences) lie somewhere in the middle. There probably are people making these kinds of plans within the management / marketing functions of Google, but at the same time, down where the developer meet the keyboard, it seems unlikely that such a direction would, or could, be tolerated.

A lot of Google employees (engineers?) seem to be heavily invested in the ‘do no evil’ mantra, to the point that regardless of what outsiders might believe, it is their corporate culture. No doubt there are also many individuals who in it for other reasons, completely uncaring about the overall direction (just “for the opportunity to work on cool stuff” is one i’ve heard a lot…) but i doubt that’s the majority – even geeks have a conscience!

The other section that i’d take issue with is:

As Android spreads, and the differences between different devices decrease as a result, there will be less competitive differentiation between manufacturers—consumers will, like they do in the PC market, shop based more on price than on who makes the device. At that point, hardware will be commoditized, and building a mobile device business based on a different OS than Android will be incredibly difficult.

This certainly isn’t what has happened in other attempts to standardise in the marketplace (or even by open agreement in standards bodies). The more likely outcome is that the tension between platform vendor, the handset OEM, and the carrier leads to fragmentation. There isn’t really much indication that anything different will happen this time, which isn’t to say that the market won’t end up with commoditised hardware, just that platform will be fragmented and weak.

Perhaps the reason that Apple isn’t being torn apart in the same way is that they are holding two of the pieces–they are the platform and the OEM. If Google is serious about succeeding as a platform then that might be the route that they need to follow. That they backed off from doing this perhaps gives some credence to the underlying tone of this post…

6 thoughts on “Mobile Imprints

  1. Perhaps fragmentation isn’t of any great concern to Google. Certainly they seem to be doing little to nothing to avoid it. Fragmentation is a problem for developers (and as a result, consumers), and only becomes Google’s problem if it hurts their platform’s momentum, which it appears to not so far be doing.

    • Reasonable point… however, if there dev rel people let things slide, and fragmentation results in developers getting pissed off at having to grind out versions of popular apps for the multitude of handset variants, it the end of the road for the third party app market.

      You could logical extend that argument to say that perhaps Google doesn’t care about the third party app market. They could be using it to create buzz, and bootstrap things up to the level that it’s a viable advertising platform. Have to admit that if that was the goal then they’re doing really well… Now we’re getting dangerously close to just agreeing with everything in the original article!

      • While there’s devs complaining, it’s not stopping them from making apps. The Android market is big enough now that the devs can complain all they want but they still have to build for it because ignoring a market that big isn’t a sensible option.

        • Yep, that’s the kind of thinking that the J2ME folks had when there were a billion (i made up that number, but it was huge) Java enabled handsets out there.

          Odd, don’t seem to hear so much about J2ME these days do we…

          In all seriousness i think the buzz (haha) around Android is much more intense than it ever was around J2ME, and it might be enough to carry the load for quite some time.

          That said, if they do care about building a platform, it’ll be how they deal with fragmentation that determines how long they survive. IMHO, of course 😉

          • I think in the J2ME world the fragmentation was a barrier at the consumer end, in that consumers weren’t looking for or getting apps because there wasn’t a clear path to them. At least with Android Google have a single place to go to to find apps, rather than having to go through fucking awful stores provided by each specific carrier.

            That, and the mobile app has come of age. In the J2ME world the handsets were mostly too small and lacking in power to allow many really compelling applications. At that time the closer analogue to today’s smartphones would have been the PalmPilots and horrific Windows CE devices.

            • Did you see that Amazon opened an Android app market today? Also one of the biggest complaint from Android developers seems to the be app store… perhaps Amazon will do a better job of it. Suckers?

Wise words...

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