How Android Hurts Microsoft

Think "baby seals" with regards to the clubbing Google gave Microsoft today.

"Whack, whack, whack" was the sound coming out of New York, where Google, HTC and T-Mobile launched the Android-based G1. The mobile phone goes on sale Oct. 22.

Google clubbed Apple, too, but Microsoft will be the more seriously injured. Today, Google officially launched its alternative platform to the Windows PC. Microsoft is frakked.

The Android-based G1 is Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's worst fears bundled together in a tidy package: Google, Web applications, open source and a platform alternative to Windows. Worse: easy access to Google's plethora of online services—including Calendar, Contacts, Gmail, Google Talk, Maps Street View and YouTube—via single sign-on. There is a single point of connection and synchronization to Google's goodie bag. Get this: No PC is required. Google syncs from the Web to the phone. Microsoft has got nothing like it, but should.

As I've blogged before, sync is the killer application for the connected world. In 2007 I warned: "If Google gets synchronization right before Microsoft, it's game over." Something else I warned: "If Google and its partners can bring to mobile devices what they have to the desktop, I predict it will be game over for Microsoft. Windows' relevance will diminish before the Web platform."

I can't blog this enough times: The PC era is waning. The cell phone is more personal than the PC, and it has great Web 2.0 platform affinity. The cell phone's destiny is inevitable. Mobiles will replace PCs as the most widely used personal devices; today, they're more adjuncts. There's a role reversal rapidly coming. For many teens using T-Mobile Sidekicks or businesspeople tapping BlackBerrys, the transition already is here.

Google Like Glue

But Google's clubbing of Microsoft is a more complex action than that. The first Android-based cell phone begins a transition that could solve some big problems for Google:

* Search isn't sticky enough. For all Google's search success, another provider is but a new Web address away. Search isn't sticky. People can easily change search providers. Applications are stickier. Hardware is stickiest. People who buy G1s will get the Google brand (on the back) and easily accessible Google-branded applications and services.

* Google is dependent on Microsoft for its success. For all Google's search dominance, the main means by which most people consume the information company's goods and services is the Windows PC. Google can't control Windows or the user experience there. Microsoft can make decisions about user interface design, Web applications integration or other platform characteristics that have huge impact on Google products—and Microsoft has huge incentive to keep computing relevance from shifting to the Web from the PC. Android-based cell phones give Google control on the emerging computing platform.

* Google didn't have its own operating system and development platform. The Web 2.0 platform is compelling, but it's not enough. As I've repeatedly blogged, the next successful computing platform must have software plus hardware plus services. In May, I blogged that Microsoft had solved the Google problem. But I'm no longer convinced. The first Android-based phone and Google's Chrome browser are game-changing. Google now has an independent platform and in the right place.

Cell phone manufacturers ship more mobiles each year—1 billion units—than the entire Windows PC install base. In many emerging markets, cell phones are the first Internet-capable devices many people own. The phenomenon is well documented from past technological transitions, where the new market skips over the old thing for something newer. Google has seen the future. Why hasn't Microsoft? The company is too bound to the desktop.

I can't express how much Microsoft has screwed up here. Compared to the iPhone or G1 UIs, Windows Mobile is clunky and chunky. There is no integrated application store, which is a killer concept, by the way. More importantly, there is no compelling integration or synchronization with other Microsoft products or services. Microsoft is driving integration from Internet Explorer 8, and I've long expected it with Windows 7, too. But not in mobile. Windows Live for Mobile has potential, but it doesn't compare to a Google-branded phone, running a Google operating system that links and syncs with Google services.


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