Away From the iPad Melee, Google vs. Apple Hots Up
Alongside the 3D televisions, tablet PCs and ebook readers that dominated this year’s consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, the biggest news to come out of the event was undoubtedly Google’s official announcement of its much-rumoured Nexus One phone. The phone itself isn’t that much of a Big Deal. Sure, its OLED screen is a bit of a boon and its Snapdragon CPU makes it one of the most powerful handsets currently out there, but Android 2.1 (the latest version of Google’s open source operating system that has been around for a couple of years) already had something of a coming out party on Motorola’s now-somewhat-overshadowed DROID handset.
The real news here is nicely summed up by Google’s snappy new store URL (www.google.com/phone). For the first time in its brief history, the company synonymous with web-software has suddenly started making hardware. Although Taiwan’s HTC actually manufactured the handset, Android’s Head Product Manager Erick Tseng has reiterated on a number of occasions that Google had a guiding hand in the phone’s look and specification. This is – to all intents and purposes – the Google Phone.
Yet, while there are promises that more phones will be added to Google’s store as time progresses, the company’s overall mobile strategy remains a little confused. Motorola, HTC, Samsung, LG and several other heavy hitters of the mobile world are all part of Google’s ‘Open Handset Alliance’, yet they sell their phones through their own stores and through subsidised deals with cellular carriers across the world. Google’s store apparently sits alongside this and attempts to consolidate a set of iconic, ‘halo’ phones in the face of Android’s comparatively disparate image.
Because let there be no bones about this, this decision is at least partially motivated by Apple’s centralised and increasingly aggressive position within the consumer electronics and web space. The iPhone’s success was further confirmed on Monday in an earnings call that boasted a 100% year-on-year sales increase. On Wednesday, Apple announced the iPad, another piece of hardware that has realigned our expectations of what a mobile device can be. Whether the iPad can deliver on its promises is yet to be seen, but Apple’s brazen creation of an entirely new category is proof of the company’s irrepressible confidence when it comes to all things mobile.
Less widely reported but perhaps even more important, last month Apple purchased the prominent mobile advertising company Quattro and were quoted (during Monday’s earnings call) as stating ‘we expect to offer developers a great opportunity for mobile advertising.’ With the rise and rise of mobile technology, mobile advertising is pretty much set to emerge as the next major battleground, as handsets become ever more versatile and ubiquitous. And with the iPhone, the iPad and an explicit statement of intent related to advertising roll-out, Apple are poised to attack both Google’s most lucrative revenue stream and its new-found love for hardware. This after they denied Google’s free phone call service Voice a place in the App Store.
Google have since created a Google Voice Web App and browser access to the service, thus enabling, presumably to Apple’s fury, a service that appears to be optimised for iPhone use. If Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s conspicuous resignation from the Apple board of directors wasn’t enough of a hint, these companies are readying themselves for all-out war.
The Nexus One therefore represents a counter-attack on Google’s part. Both brands have heavy “mindshare” amongst consumers and both are increasingly plunging multiple fingers into one another’s pies. All this marks good times for the consumer. More competition inevitably means a better user experience somewhere down the road. But if Google fully position themselves behind smart phones, as their high profile store appears to suggest they will, 2010 could be the year when battle truly commences.