And people — including Google’s partners — are starting to get pissed. Some have already taken it to the Feds.
Google’s agreements with Android partners are more “onerous” now than in the past, we recently heard from a Silicon Valley bigwig.
Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance and Peter Burrows just published a good overview of the situation.
Some choice bits:
- Google is totally in control of Android now. No more “willy-nilly” tweaks to Android or “partnerships formed outside of Google’s purview.”
- Companies who want early access to Android “will need approval of their plans” from Android boss Andy Rubin.
- Google has new “non-fragmentation clauses” that give Google veto power over tweaks that others want to make to Android, or even partnerships that companies want to make.
- Facebook, which — as we first reported — is crafting its own version of Android, needs to get approval of its code from Google. That has to be uncomfortable.
- Google has “tried to hold up” some Verizon Android devices that use Microsoft Bing as its search engine. Yikes! Sure sounds anti-competitive.
- Affected companies include top smartphone makers like Samsung, LG, and Toshiba.
- Google plays favourites, and the companies who get access to software early can score big in the market. For those who can’t, like Dell, it can suck.
- Some companies have already complained to the Justice Department.
Separately, but indicative of the same problem, Google basically forced Motorola to ditch a contract it had with software maker Skyhook Wireless last year, which forced Skyhook to sue Google. That case is still pending.
So, what to make of all this?
We hear that the “naked” version of Android is still pretty much fair game. But any time you want to even come CLOSE to mentioning the name Google or any of its services — maps, Gmail, apps, etc. — near your device, you NEED one of these increasingly “onerous” contracts with Andy Rubin.
And the “naked” Android is getting harder to get ahold of, too — Google isn’t distributing Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” right now because it’s not ready for the masses.
From a consumer’s perspective, by the way, all of this is probably a good thing. It sounds like it will lead to more consistent, high-quality Android devices. (Inconsistency, fragmentation, and questionable quality are rampant in the Android portfolio.) And it’s not like this is an uncommon way of doing business. Microsoft keeps tight control over Windows Phone 7, Apple doesn’t even let other companies near iOS, etc.
For the industry, it will probably mean less freedom over what companies can do with Android. Depending on how strict Google is, this could either be OK, a little bad, or really bad. It depends what you want to do with Android, and whether Google sees you as strategically important or competitive. We wouldn’t want to be Facebook in this situation.
This is what happens when you rely on another company for your underlying platform. This is why Apple was the only PC maker that could innovate away from Windows. This is why it is good to be the platform maker and not relying on some other company for your software. This is why Zynga could never be bigger than Facebook unless it stopped relying on Facebook. Even if something is promised to you as “open” one day, it might be closed the next day. This happens all the time, so if you get fooled, it’s on you.
Google could be making the right move, business-wise — it depends whether this infuriates any partners enough that they stop working with Google, either going to the Microsoft camp or working on their own operating systems.
But in terms of goodwill and reputation, Google is now dirty. The company talked until it lost its voice about how “open” Android was going to be, and now it is very clear that was B.S.
Why would you trust Google anymore?