Google’s Android And The Path Not Taken

on May 16, 2013
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Yesterday, Google held its I/O keynote address. Ben Thompson of “stratēchery” has written an excellent article entitled: THE ANDROID DETOUR. I highly encourage you to take the time to read it. I’m going to re-state and build upon his thoughts here.

1) In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone. Google’s then CEO, Eric Schmidt was a member of Apple’s board and an honored guest at the iPhone presentation. It appeared that all was right with the worlds of Apple and Google – Apple was going to do its hardware thing and Google was going to do its services thing and a new era of mutually beneficial cooperation was about to begin.

2) In 2008, Google introduced Android – a direct competitor to Apple’s iOS – and the Apple/Google alliance quickly began to unravel. Schmidt soon left Apple’s board, Steve Jobs later vowed to go “thermonuclear” on Android and the Apple/Google alliance was over almost before it had begun.

3) It’s clear that pre-iPhone, Google was initially aiming Android as a Blackberry and Microsoft Mobile competitor, but as soon as the iPhone appeared on the scene, Google’s Android focus dramatically shifted. Assuming that competing with Apple was the right strategy, Google should be given all the credit in the world for pivoting as rapidly as they did from their original plan to creating a legitimate iPhone competitor.

4) As an aside, I also give Microsoft lots of credit too. When the iPhone initially appeared, Microsoft didn’t foresee the danger it posed. But soon afterwards, they not only recognized the danger but they acted and acted decisively. They took the radical step of abandoning Windows Mobile altogether and initiating their new Windows Phone 7 platform. It was a bold move, but as history as shown, it was one year too late. Windows Phone 7 (now 8) has never gotten any traction and it languishes in third place, just above the rapidly fading Blackberry OS.

5) I think I could make a pretty compelling case that Google should never have made Android a competitor to Apple’s iOS. By doing so, they destroyed a promising alliance and, perhaps, took a long, long, detour down a path that they never should have taken. But that’s all moot now. We’ll never know how that alternative reality would have played out, so there’s little point debating it.

6) What can’t be debated is the effect that Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android have had on the incumbent smartphone competitors. Palm and WebOS were wiped out. Blackberry was devastated. Nokia was humbled. Microsoft Windows was abandoned and replaced by Windows Phone 7.

Pundits often frame the smartphone/tablet wars as a battle between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, but in reality, those two operating systems – with Apple descending from above and Android rising from the below, crushed the existing smartphone competitors between them.

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There is little proof that Android has ever made any significant income for Google, but if the destruction of their enemies was Google’s aim, then there is no doubting that the Android strategy was eminently successful.

7) Google’s I/O keynote barely even mentioned Android or any kind of hardware at all. If there was a common theme, it was about service unification between Chrome and Android.

Instead of an updated Nexus 7 tablet or a new Chromebook model, Google spent three hours during Wednesday’s keynote to discuss services and feature upgrades for both Chrome and Android.

If I could describe #io13 in one word it would be “unification”. Same features, services, UI and experiences on Chrome and Android. ~ Kevin C. Tofel

I think that Ben Thompson is spot on with this analysis:

“Services are where Google excels, and it’s where they make their money. It’s why they make the most popular iOS apps, even as their own OS competes for phone market share.

Apple, on the other hand, makes money on hardware. It’s why their services and apps only appear on their own devices; for Apple, services and apps are differentiators, not money-makers.”

“Apple invests in software, apps, and services to the extent necessary to preserve the profit they gain from hardware. To serve another platform would be actively detrimental to their bottom line. Google, on the other hand, spreads their services to as many places as possible – every platform they serve increases their addressable market.”

8) The battle for mobile is over. Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android reign as a duopoly and Microsoft and Blackberry hang on by the skin of their teeth. Google is free to put its web services on Android and iOS and to ignore the Blackberry and Windows 8 operating systems. Android has ensured that Google’s services are freely accessible on the only two operating systems that matter. The Android strategy was a success although, perhaps, at great cost. Google’s I/O keynote is living proof that Google is now re-focusing on their original mission of dominating web services.