Google starts to pay price for Android failures

Google's purpose with Android seems to be to keep some market share from Steve Jobs and Microsoft. It has succeeded but at a cost to its reputation.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

Tech dominance is all about the "mandate from heaven." (Picture from Wikipedia.)

The difference is that while a Chinese ruler had a throne to sit on, a tech leader is standing at the top of a pyramid, on a platform made of ice.

Tech generally has one leader at a time, one company everyone else follows. When I began in this business it was IBM. Then the mandate moved to Microsoft. Google made its 'deal with the devil' on Android to retake the mandate Steve Jobs seized with the iPhone.

Google remains the low-cost provider of Internet-based services, at least in the U.S., and if it were up to me it would have exploited that advantage rather than giving mobile carriers control over what was billed as an open source project.

Growing fall-out over that decision is starting to impact Google's image. Former Mozilla developer Jon Hewitt, now at Facebook, agrees the Android is no more open than the iPhone.

Hewitt writes that Android's acquiescence with carrier demands is a devil's bargain, adding it was necessary for Android to gain market traction.

The problem with that attitude is it makes Verizon and AT&T the gatekeepers of American tech, and having followed this business for almost 30 years I can tell you anyone who bets on the Bells to lead anything is a fool. (Ask Dennis Hayes.)

For as long as I have covered technology the Bells have been the chief obstacle to progress. This is a feature, not a bug. It's in their nature. They are at heart monopolists. The Bell System began as a monopoly, the former "Regional Bell Operating Companies" were regional monopolies.

The Bells seek control. They care nothing about competition. Any pretense in that direction is mere noise, it's shadowboxing. Their business model is based on lobbying, in Washington and in state capitols, and no one has ever been better at it.

Over the last decade the Bells won control of the Internet's last mile by buying up and hoarding your electromagnetic spectrum and overthrowing the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which required them to wholesale their capacity to other companies.

Rather than invest in their networks they let a 1990s start-up, Google, build a better network with its purchases of dark fiber, its low-cost server farms, and its intense focus on lowering costs through things like opening windows to cool servers rather than buy air conditioning.

Now, by dropping boxes at phone company points of presence (POPs), Google has the capacity to compete head-to-head with them. That's why, as I said (and Robert Cringely agrees) its deal with Verizon did not harm the cause of net neutrality.

All Google needs do now is send out its shipping containers to Verizon POPs, throw up some Super WiFi aimed at nearby hotspots, throw in a little mesh magic and you have serious competition in the last mile for the first time in a decade. You can have the Bell, the cable, or Google.

Machiavelli might argue, then, that its Android capitulation is all a cunning plan, giving the Bells enough rope to hang themselves with before Google trots out its network and a phone that is truly free.

The problem with that is it depends on Google maintaining goodwill, both with the public and with policymakers. That can no longer be assumed. (Check out the comments below -- there is a growing sense that not only is Google evil, but evil incarnate.)

Google is not a device company. It doesn't want to be one. Its only purpose with Android seems to be to keep some market share from Steve Jobs, and keep Microsoft from gaining traction in the space. In that it has succeeded, but at a cost to its reputation.

That cost may yet prove to be too high.

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