Google Must Choose – Will it be Search or Android? Google mOS?

December 21, 2011

in Mobility, Strategic Convos, Strategy Formulation

Google needs a new strategy for Android. As a brand, as a design direction and in deepening its corporate understanding of where mobile and search intersect. I started this post really wondering if Android has lost it’s way? I end it concluding that Android as a brand, or sub-brand isn’t helping Google with their long-term strategic direction and positioning. (I wrote this on Nov 17th and thought I see how I felt about it…. It’s long and you will have to get to the end to see the real value in it…. I think it’s worth sharing. Key point… Google has seconded its design language and values to Android. That needs a remedy.)

I can’t help considering the questions. Is Android is in a pile of trouble? This despite the seemingly ever increasing sales volumes, the launch of many many new high powered devices and the latest iteration of it’s operating system “IceCream Sandwich”. A year ago many were asking if Windows7/8 mobile had a chance. Even the Nokia deal with Windows seemed to be a complete disaster. In the meantime RIM and Nokia shares have collapsed. Samsung which along with HTC (make the nicest Android phones) are both embroiled in lawsuits with Apple, while we read patent war in the background. Then there is Oracle (via Sun and Java) that has issues with Android.

In the meantime my understanding is all current  available iOS phones continue to outsell any Android handset in the US. In other countries where Apple has broad scale distribution rather than limited to a specific carrier – Apple continues to grow share while Android through Samsung in particular continue to destroy Nokia. Through all of this… Apple makes the profits.

So why should we wonder if Android is so vulnerable? 

Patents – I suspect this is not going to go away. Both Apple and MicroKia have a vested interest in this. So does Oracle. HTC and others are already paying Microsoft on Android. Android isn’t really looking like free anymore. Separately, has Amazon with the Kindle Fire got around all the “copy cat” type patents by forking their own version? It’s a Kindle – not an Android.

Brand: We are soon going to find out if Kindle is a better brand than Android and what other Android Tablets can do about it. Kindle has smartly positioned itself as something new and different at a price point that is very competitive. It’s not an upsized Android phone, a complaint also leveled at the iPad when launched. Separately, the brand Android talks a technical positioning (it’s always been more geek) and is really a copycat of iOS. It’s easy enough to use, it’s not good enough if you can afford an iPhone. Then there are all the model variations. So end of day… the app and gaming experience on Android still lags iPhone. These are the functional attributes. The emotional ones are more complex. The phone in one’s pocket is always likely to be the best phone they ever had. Price and value matter in this equation. In many markets the iPhone is just too expensive. When there is money – kids want iPhones – for entertainment, for gaming, for social networks. I’m yet to see data where kids overall want an Android more.

MicroKia – The combination of Microsoft and Nokia remain underestimated. They are definitely down and almost out for the count. This combination needs two things to really hurt Android. First it needs XBOX gaming. There are enough exclusive XBOX titles that can make MicroKia phones more compelling – even with a very limited catalog when they actually launch. There’s a lot that could be brought in here.  The other – Office. Kids don’t buy business phones. Companies do. Adults do or might. Small businesses might. Beyond email managing Office matters. Apple has a huge head start at this point and I don’t think Office is a threat to it.  However, having a tool for business – one with serious intent, that perhaps isn’t so playful, or so technical – one that is for “connecting people” rather than socializing, one that is about power, and presentation is important.

Design: Microsoft/Nokia actually have an opportunity to design phones that are different. Ones that play to the strengths listed above. Google was never serious about business (look at Google Apps) and Motorola clearly lacks the industrial design skills that exist in Nokia. One thing that these two brands can bring together are things like durability, long-life battery, higher processing speed, more memory, PC/Mobile integration. I could list more. Where are technical breakthroughs possible? Around maps? Skype? NFC? And then there is price. These devices are going to be priced way lower than iPhones and over time easily compete price wise with Android . Otherwise…. they are out of business.

Evil: Google used to be “Do no evil”. I don’t actually believe that’s even understood anymore. Money appears to rule at Google (as in most companies – including their competitors) as others have noted. Google increasingly has an underlying trust problem. For most… convenience trumps trust. Ask Facebook. Or use Google search. Still Google is a little like the borg. They (employees) may not like it, it’s just reinforced by algorithms, and the idea of the brightest engineers toiling away. Google doesn’t have a soft face. By nature it is calculating. That’s a shame, for Google has done much good for the world. Search has leveled the field and opened up many opportunities. It’s in my view the core of Google’s business.

Siri: It’s also been written that Apple’s new Siri combined with Wolfram Alpha and it’s other smarts is a real risk to Google. It is… when I can’t ask Google anything. Or when or if I ask Google anything I’m further categorized in ways that may be used against me later. If Google is to be a bigger and more helpful brain for me.. then it has to help me and work harder for me. That means harder for my independence, it means giving me power to ask better questions, it means more statistics on things when they are going wrong. It means creating a better world. In my view Google has turned away from this. It asks not what I want to search for when in a location.. rather it asks increasingly what can I push at him. It wants my +plus votes. Is this for my common good or against me? The personality in Google is in asking it questions, in search.

So what should Google Do? 

I’m starting to question if there is a contrarian strategy in the Motorola purchase. Time to let go of Android, and the likely impact and financial implications that are likely to evolve from law suits. If Android was for sale? Who could buy it? Could it even be sold per se? Yet, I’m sure many would say selling Android is like selling the crown jewels. It’s currently the best selling mobile OS. We all know mobile is where it is at and mobile search is just in its infancy (perhaps not even that far – conception).

One of the issues with Android is… it doesn’t have the potential to have Google’s intestinal fortitude. It’s shaped by other manufacturers. These manufacturers add stuff. TouchWiz and more. One way to deal with this… is simply rename Android – Google mOS. When Android becomes Google mOS then “we” users, employees, android customers etc can actually begin to understand what it stands for… and how it relates to the deeper corporate values that exist in Google and Google search. In many ways this isn’t so farfetched. My Samsung Galaxy has clearly printed “with Google” on the back cover. Google inside was always a great idea. It’s the software that gives us power, through search and related tools. A Google stamp on the OS means that Gmail isn’t an app that rides on top. It’s part of what’s baked in.

Android is not iPhone. iPhone is simply an identifier like a Galaxy from Samsung. iOS and Android are similar and different. iOS is just part of the Apple experience. Android – is not necessarily part of the Google experience. In fact Google Apps appear to run on top of Android which is obviously some mobile operating system like Windows.

I wrote this post… and as often happens when you let your thoughts run… it turns out to be something different. What I’m convinced of.. is Google should rename Android to Google mOS. It should write a consumer charter for GmOS. That will define both mobile and the larger and more important search business going forward. It should do this as part of the Motorola purchase. There remain huge issues with respect to other handset manufacturers. So I’m fairly sure that Motorola will go on the block or remain free standing.

Android “design” follows what we expect of technical, robotics, futurist, etc. Perhaps that’s fine. I suspect however that a Google mOS would provide an opportunity to move the design elements for the operating system into new areas that will broaden its appeal. It can also rid itself of all these copy cat activities  from Music to App stores. It should be easier to just search… and quicker, while the “recommendations” should also be more active. Google is supposed to be smarter than me. I think it is time to make all this stuff… photos, music, movies, etc.. more invisible and more accessible at the same time. While that won’t eliminate an app store it will refocus how we learn and I hope put it in the context of location.

That’s the one screaming huge opportunity in the mobile search business. My data and where I am. Whether selling or sharing my attention, I have a vesting interest in it. Android was free for distribution – the prize was perceived to be that big. All us users have one big problem. We want more data…. and it keeps costing more and more. Google has apparently stopped advocating on users behalf’s and yet could relaunch those efforts very easily with a Google mOS approach. Most users are prepared to cut a bargain, make an exchange. I suspect they will do even more if they can “aggregate” effectively or are rewarded in the aggregate. The big opportunity for Google is to lower our costs, to make knowledge and even what we don’t know about ourselves even more leverage-able. Android / Google mOS is an opportunity to create a pact, a cooperative structure with users focused on creating more collective value.

In the end.. Google wants me to view and act on more ads. It wants to deliver more to me in a mobile context. That’s only going to happen if they create a more powerful relationship, that drives down to core values. Android has strayed from Google core values. It doesn’t have the same simplicity, the same interpretive responsiveness. Google is on top of Android, rather than baked in – this is perception. It’s time to do something about it.

One of the more stimulating intellectual challenges that exists today is how to compete tomorrow in mobile. It doesn’t matter whether you are Google, MicroKia, Apple or Samsung etc. Each have different opportunities to define the future. Google has a box seat and yet its Android, Motorola, Search strategy appears confused. Each of these competitors have potentially quite different design languages. Apples is best understood. Windows has traditionally been more of a copy, a follower. Google has seconded its design language to Android. That needs a remedy. Let’s hope the message gets through.

I’ve been a smart phone user since 2001. I’ve been an occasional Android user. I have a Samsung Galaxy. I’ve owned or used almost all Nokia Smartphones through the N8. I’ve never been a Blackberry fan mostly tracing to their browser. I currently use an iPhone4S daily. I’ve researched and done ethnography’s on  the “unconnected” in emerging markets and followed leading edge smartphone users around the world. Two years from now mobiles could be a real step forward from where we are today. The question perhaps is… who’s going to push who more?

Previous post:

Next post: