Get Serious: Of COURSE Google's Going To Take On The iPhone

android eating apple

Photo: asgw via Flickr

The conventional wisdom among Silicon Valley bigwigs is that Google is going to “go iPhone” after its Motorola acquisition is complete.The merger is dragging through the approval process — China is the last country standing in the way — but some time this year the deal will close.

That’s when Google’s mobile plans will start to become clear.

Android chief Andy Rubin is swearing up and down that Motorola will be just another partner for Google, and that it will continue to treat all its Android partners equally.

But Google has to say this, otherwise all its Android partners would begin looking around for alternatives like Windows Phone.

The truth is, all signs point to Google/Motorola embracing Apple’s end-to-end philosophy of hardware and software development.

Google stands to gain a lot by putting all its weight behind Motorola’s Android phones and tablets.

Look at all the problems it could solve:

  • End fragmentation. Each time Google updates Android, phone makers and carriers may or may not update existing phones. (Google and a bunch of carriers signed a deal to guarantee all phones less than 18 months old would be updated, but that deal has been a joke so far.) This makes it hard for developers to figure out how to build apps that will work on the most phones. But fragmentation goes beyond software — there are also a bunch of slightly different hardware configurations. One game developer recently gave up building for Android because it was so hard and expensive to assure quality game play on every single Android phone. If Google makes one set of phones with consistent hardware and software, developers would know exactly which phone to target, and consumers would know which phone to buy to get the best, most up-to-date experience.
  • Push related products. Google Wallet was supposed to revolutionise retail by letting consumers pay by swiping their phones against a little reader. But few phones ship with the necessary NFC chip. By making its own phones, Google can make sure they have whatever mobile hardware technology is necessary to support the services it’s rolling out. 
  • Make more money from mobile search. Mobile search is the fastest growing segment of search, with usage spiking like Web search did in the early days. But mobile search is a lot less profitable than Web search — mobile users don’t “convert” (buy products) as reliably as Web searchers, so advertisers aren’t willing to pay as much. Google can try to fix this by building location-based services that tie into local commerce. But it will only work if there are lots of phones that support those services.
  • Twist the carriers’ arms. Even if Android hardware makers ship the necessary hardware to support all these new Google services, carriers can always block them — that’s a big reason why Google Wallet hasn’t taken off. (Google is now reportedly going to pay carriers to use it.) But if Google and Motorola make one or two absolutely killer phones with hardware features that aren’t available anywhere else, then it’s got more leverage over carriers — just like Apple did with the original iPhone. 
  • Have a shot in tablets. The reason Android phones took off is because carriers who didn’t have the iPhone were looking for a low-cost, highly customisable alternative. But carriers don’t drive the tablet market — consumers do. Right now, consumers aren’t buying Android tablets — there are too many of them, and they’re not good enough. Google may not be able to solve this problem, but at least it can put its best engineers to bear on it, and release one top-class Android tablet instead of letting its partners compete with a bunch of sub-iPad-quality models.

The trick to all this is to turn Motorola from a lumbering also-ran to a company that knows how to make great hardware. And to pull off the change without driving current Android partners away.

That’s going to be very tough to pull off. But Google is absolutely going to try.

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