Media Briefing on Broadband & Mobility

October 12, 2008

Google Android = Google Muni WiFi?

Filed under: Industry commentary — Craig Settles @ 1:40 pm

Joe Biden, in his VP debate, said “past is prologue.” The verbose one pretty succinctly summed up a lot of truth in the technology world.

I started wondering the other day about this Google Android thing. What are the chances this is going to end up like that other notable Google initiative I’m particularly familiar with – the free Google muni wireless network across America?

Remember that? End of 2005, Google makes worldwide noise saying they were going to build a free wireless network for San Francisco. Media across the continent collectively swooned and within a couple of weeks everyone was speculating on a national network. You see how that played out in S.F. and elsewhere.

Given this and questions being raised about Google’s Facebook-killer, Open Social, I pose some issues we should ponder. I offer these from a business, not consumer, market perspective.

Does Google have marketing or technology competencies to unseat those mobile operating systems with entrenched market share, name recognition, committed developers, etc? If each of us had $10 in a coffee can for every large company that unsuccessfully tried to market a product not within their scope of established expertise or market strength, we’d be less worried about the current market turmoil.

T-Mobile G1

T-Mobile G1

True, a lot depends on Google’s developers and marketing partners staying the course, but if you consider how their Open Social product has fared (click here for an example), could the same happen with Android developers. I’m a developer with finite resources. I have a choice between iPhone and Android. IPhone = Facebook. You decide.

Are we making too much of Android’s open source? Of course it’s an advantage for vendors and end users to have anyone be able to develop apps for your hardware without the hassles of proprietary technology. But with Symbian planning to become open source, and LiMo Foundation’s upcoming Linux OS for mobile devices, there goes that advantage.

Expect resistance from IT at the enterprise gate. The initial products won’t be targeted to businesses. But by the time you see Android devices for that arena, IT people are going to be so pressed to support devices from the Big Four (RIM, Win Mobile, iPhone and Symbian) that open or not, Android represents yet another operating system and more headaches.

The double-edge of the “converged devices” sword presents a boardroom challenge. The big argument for converged devices is that they pack enough features and capabilities so they’re good for personal or work use. Many consumers buy them with this in mind. But vendors such as Palm and Microsoft aren’t asleep at the wheel. They’ll just push out marketing campaigns for established business users that say, “You’ve used our devices for work, try these ‘new and improved’ devices for work and play.” Boardroom takes path of least resistance, Jane and Joe consumers working for these businesses have a compelling reason not to buy Android.

Yes, iPhones breeched the enterprise gates from the consumer side. But one, iPhones are tres chic in executive circles, to the point of weakening CrackBerry addiction. And two, RIM, Microsoft et al aren’t going to make the mistake of letting another consumer device of foreign OS parentage erode their business market share.

Is Google really serious about Android? Google reminds me of the person with lots of money, but little knowledge of the game, who sits at a blackjack table and throws money on ridiculous bets to see what happens. They mess up the game for others, raise blood pressures, cause a few players to go bust, then leave when they get bored.

Looking at the potential challenges to their plans (hopes?) to become a dominant player in mobile device operating system, you have to wonder what are the odds that Google picks up its chips and moves on in a year or so. How likely is that? Take the “Show Me the Money” test.

When some higher up at Google sat down and asked the question, show me the money in muni wireless (particularly after EarthLink folded its hand), the argument for potential ad revenue didn’t seal the deal. Don’t see a nationwide Google WiFi network, do you? So where’s the money for Google in Android? They don’t sell the operating system, they don’t sell the applications that run on Android phones and they don’t lock in phones to use Google service and that makes ad revenue somewhat speculative.

It’s hard to predict, but if you believe past is prologue…

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4 Comments »

  1. […] Media Briefing on Broadband & Mobility created an interesting post today on Google Android = Google Muni WiFi?Here’s a short outlineBut by the time you see d Android evices for that arena, IT people are going to be so pressed to support devices from the Big Four (RIM, Win Mobile, iPhone a…But one, iPhones are tres chic in executive circles, to the point of weakening CrackBerry addiction….Yes, iPhones breeched the enterprise gates from the consumer side….I have a choice between iPhone and Android. IPhone = Facebook. You decide…. […]

    Pingback by Google Android = Google Muni WiFi? » iPhone Tricks — October 12, 2008 @ 2:09 pm | Reply

  2. Interesting notes. I think its a little bit of a stretch to compare Android to muni wifi, but I think your criticisms are apt. Google is notorious for muddying the playing field… consider Chrome (which, after an initial boom saw users switching back to their usual browsers) which shows how confused Google is about where to move their business. I see how this applies to the wireless industry, but have to think that Google has the right mentality going open-source from the get go. Right now, a lot of the market seems to be pushing for third-party applications, and that plays a lot into the success of an OS. Palm is a tired old system, but they manage to keep users because they were the first to offer third-party. I think this market will be cornered by whomevor is making the most reliable, useful and beautiful applications… and I think the iPhone has a pretty good chance to stay on top with their devoted developers. But we’ll see as time goes.

    Comment by Brian James Kirk — October 14, 2008 @ 7:34 am | Reply

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