Monday, November 5, 2007

Google wants an equal chance to get into your mobile phone

Google Inc., T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm, Motorola and others have collaborated on the development of Android, which is open source software for mobile devices, including an operating system, middleware and key mobile applications.

As reported in various newspapers and in this blog, the Google Phone is not a device introduced by Google, but a software stack for mobile phones.

The companies have teamed under an alliance called the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), a multinational alliance of technology and mobile industry leaders.

The key objective of Android is summed in this paragraph on the web site of the alliance: “Android does not differentiate between the phone's core applications and third-party applications. They can all be built to have equal access to a phone's capabilities providing users with a broad spectrum of applications and services.”

Google’s bid to proliferate a standard platform, even an open-source platform, will likely be resisted by many mobile phone vendors including Nokia. An open source platform would deprive Nokia of its differentiation. Open source tends to drive commoditization, because every new software feature is available to anyone else to include in their phones.

In its bid to expand its presence beyond the desktop, Google has been pushing for mobile phone vendors and service providers to open up their platforms and services to third-party applications. That would enable users to download Google applications and services on to their phones without having to worry about software compatibility issues, or whether their network operator supports the application.

Currently Google, as also other application and services vendors have to negotiate with mobile phone vendors and network operators to support their applications or services. In such a deal Google would probably have to share its key revenue stream – advertising – with service providers.

The adoption of an open platform would help Google as also users who would have the freedom to choose applications for their device. These days if you buy a phone from Nokia Corp. or Sony Ericsson, or any other vendor, before you download an application, you have to verify that the software is compatible with and supported by your specific mobile phone model. You may also have to check with mobile phone service providers to find out if they support the application.

Google’s move to promote a standard platform is however likely to be resisted by mobile phone makers and network operators, as it will be seen by many as a move by Google to extend its dominance to beyond the desktop, and beyond search. The question foremost on vendors’ minds will be: what is Google doing with operating system and middleware for the mobile phone ? Isn’t that the same thing that Microsoft has been trying with its own software ?

As an user, I too would be a little worried, if my favorite search provider, news aggregator, online productivity applications provider, and blog hosting provider were to also try to get into operating system software. Google is beyond doubt the key player in the Open Handset Alliance. To assuage the doubts of handset vendors and those of users, the company has to make a clear statement of its own objectives.

Apart from winning over big handset vendors like Nokia, Google and Open Handset Alliance will also have to win over large service providers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless. These two companies together control over 50 percent of the US market, and have long been used to deciding what goes into phones on their network. Control has provided them rich content and services revenue streams. They may not take too kindly to having Google and the Open Handset Alliance telling them what to do on their networks.

Related articles:

A Google phone. So why the fuss ?

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