Google’s Android Bait and Switch

You may or may not have caught an interesting change Google has made with KitKat. Google is no longer including Chrome as a part of the Google services license. Meaning that the Chrome browser will not come pre-installed on Android devices running KitKat. OEMs in essence can now choose to license the Chrome browser as a part of this or not depending on if they want it pre-installed or not. Consumers can still go download it from the store after purchase. When you think about the bulk of Android’s install base being the low-end segment of the market you realize these users will generally just use whatever is installed.

This struck me as odd, given Google’s business model. One would think they want Chrome front and center on all devices in order to push search to all users. So giving Android OEMs a choice seems like an odd move. This is what got me thinking about the bait and switch strategy Google may be using with Android.

One thing to note though, is that Google is doing everything they can to rein in the low-end devices and try to get more control and more value from them. Google may ultimately be planning a bait and switch type maneuver where once they have the majority of devices they start forcing OEMs to license their search engine for example. Google services certification requires vendors to comply with Google’s rules in order to get access to the Play store, Maps, now Chrome and other key services. What is to stop them from adding to search to that list?  Which seems like a contrary move given their business model but the bottom line is there is no search engine better than theirs so if they did this many would not have a choice. But if you think about it, if Google can create a dependence on Android and their services by keeping them free or low-cost to gain market share, then start charging, it would be the ultimate bait and switch. Google doesn’t get much revenue from low-end devices on search so this would be a way to monetize these devices regardless.

While this is purely speculation, I am told there is a strategic agenda inside Google to figure out how to better monetize the low-end Android devices since that is the bulk of the Android install base. Which creates the challenge, since low-end Android OEMs make next to nothing on the device. But it is clear Google is not seeing much benefit, if any, to their ecosystem on these devices.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

4 thoughts on “Google’s Android Bait and Switch”

  1. It is my understanding that the low end devices are the ones least likely to generate web activity. Seems thy are trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip.

  2. There is another possible motivation for the “closure” of Chrome (of course vendors can still make their own version, from Chromium…) and that’s apps. Google is on the record as saying that it wants to bring Chrome-native apps like the ones in ChromeOS to Android. If, one day, that becomes popular with developers and users there’s a strong incentive for phone makers to stick with Google services.

  3. If you look at the net usage stats for Android, you will notice that users using Chrome are still the minority, and even on newer devices that run ICS and above (Chrome capable), they are using either the Android browser, or an OEM (i.e. Samsung) browser that uses Chromium as the rendering engine. The bargaining power that Google gains by removing the Android browser is hence actually quite limited.

    Furthermore, because a) Samsung and other larger OEMs can easily create their own browser based on WebView or Chromium, and b) for Samsung at least, creating their own browser allows them to provide a unique UI like the one that responds to hand waves, larger OEMs will most likely continue to use their own browser as the default.

  4. low end android phones can’t do much because they have very little memory like 2gb and if you are lucky maybe 4 and that small amount can get eaten up by text messages and pictures. the next issue is the battery life on cheap phones is so bad its like when you’re driving a car and the gas tank is getting close to empty and you really start to change your behavior like turning the air conditioner off and letting down the windows and you start driving slower until you get to a gas station and thats what most cheap phones are like you are trying not to use the phone to save battery

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