Photo: Associated Press
Earlier we pointed out that thousands of iPad owners have been paying money for third-party Facebook apps — bootlegs, basically — instead of just using Facebook’s iPad-tailored website, which is free and does many of the same things as those apps.While the obvious message is that Facebook should get its butt in gear making an iPad app, there are also implications here for Google.
- The App Store is replacing the web search engine for mobile device users, at least for some searches. This should scare Google, because search is its core business, and it’s being supplanted.
- And, additionally, that Google really can’t afford for Android to bomb.
It’s obvious that mobile App Stores would be incredibly popular for the sort of stuff you can’t really do on the web, like downloading games, camera apps, productivity, utilities, etc. But these Facebook iPad apps aren’t popular because they’re particularly advanced, or offer dramatic new features. These are basically just tuned-up versions of Facebook’s free “touch” website.
They’re popular because these people are using the App Store to search for “Facebook,” and are not using Google for that. (And, perhaps, because they might not know that Apple lets you save web bookmarks to your iPad’s home screen — looks just like an App — to quickly launch later.)
This highlights the fact that search on mobile devices is going to be different than search on desktop computers, which puts Google’s core search business in jeopardy.
Google is doing its part, for sure, innovating in areas like voice-activated search, photo search, producing iPhone apps, etc. And iPhone and iPad users are still conducting plenty of Google searches on their devices. But even the best Google apps in the world won’t do much if the search engine people are using to find them is Apple’s App Store, which is built into the phone’s operating system.
If App Stores are going to intercept at least some web searches, Google stands to be less important for those queries and users than it is on the desktop.
Of course, this assumes that apps will continue to be a major force on mobile devices. Perhaps mobile websites will take over a lot of the work we’re doing in apps today, as the technology for mobile apps and wireless networks improves. But for today, apps are a big deal.
The good news is that Google is pushing like crazy on Android, its answer to Apple’s iOS — both on smartphones, where it has already passed Apple in market share, and on tablets, where Android-powered iPad rivals are popping up.
Google will at least own the primary App Store for those users — unless their carrier or manufacturer partners strip it out. And users will probably be more likely to use Google service than non-Google services on Android devices — unless their carrier or manufacturer partners put their own services ahead of Google’s. So that’s an improvement over Google’s situation on Apple devices, where Apple owns the App Store. (Or RIM, Nokia, etc.)
But this is why Google must fear Apple and other strong rivals, and can’t afford for Android to bomb. And should be pushing as hard as it can to convince the world’s top smartphone makers — Nokia and RIM — to switch to Android.
See Also: The Truth About The iPad, Day 100