"It’s Google’s autistic approach to relationships," one senior phone exec told me this week. "They don’t know what hurt they’re doing, and they don’t care."
It’s nothing personal, guys. Today, some of the biggest tech companies in the world, who thought they were Google’s closest partners, will begin to understand how, say, copyright holders have felt for some time now. For the first time, I suspect, they’ll be enjoying that recurring tingle of amazement and disbelief that (as Chris Castle explained here), Google would even try and pull off such a stunt. It took EMI Publishing six months to realise that Google had claimed digital rights to its songs, for example. But even if the decision to shaft its closest Android partners and biggest customers is an aberration, a one-off, a fling that Google will later regret - then the size of the parties involved means it’s going to have lasting repercussions.
Even before Google started competing with it head on this week, the mobile industry was already wary of the Mountain View Chocolate Factory, and its inclination to hoover up every morsel of service revenue. Now complaining about that may be a bit hypocritical, you might think, if you look at how much of a transaction operators such as Docomo have traditionally retained, and how much they want to keep now. But look at the alternative, Google told the networks and device makers. That Mr Jobs doesn’t leave anything on the table. And besides, we Do No Evil.
Wakey wakey, networks
If you’re scratching your head wondering what the big deal is, then I suggest you do a quick news search on the number of stories containing the phrase ‘Google superphone’. Imagine how this looks to a punter. There are over a dozen Google phones. Only one is a real Google phone. Only one is a Google superphone. And you can only get that from Google. Won’t Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Acer and Samsung be feeling pleased today? Sony Ericsson’s X10 has a fairly identical spec (plus Sony branding) or better – but it’s not a ‘superphone’. And not the ‘real thing’.
If you thought there was a level playing field, you’ve been mugged. If you’re looking for a differentiator, similarly, you’ve been mugged.
As we discussed earlier, there may be some semantic wiggle room for Google – but it’s a Bill Clinton defence. Andy Rubin not only questioned the definition of sexual relations but also what ‘make our own hardware’ means (phnarr!). Maybe even what ‘is’ is. So despite nods and winks to the contrary, Google is now selling a Google-branded ‘superphone’, alongside its Google ad programs and Google-created software platform.
This is no surprise.
If networks are surprised that Google can turn around and shaft them – then they can’t have been paying close attention to company strategy in recent times. They certainly weren’t reading El Reg, where we’ve been joining the dots for you for years. The evidence was already abundant that Google envisaged a value chain without operators or ISPs. In Google’s vision of the future, there are no $80bn-a-year turnover giants like Vodafone. Instead, masts are merely a dumb transmission network, most likely operated by a monopoly incumbent (such as Arquiva for UK TV and radio), which must be regulated (out of necessity) by an equally dumb transmission network regulator.
With the value of copyright also reduced to zero, (the other arm of Google’s mighty lobbying effort is to kneecap creators and rightsholders,) then the only internet company that could possibly make money would be Google - since it would be the only internet company.
Good, honest lobbying
Google has lobbied for this for years now; it's also why Google has its own private internet. Googlenet already carries 10 per cent of the net’s traffic internally, and this is a testbed for replacements for the open protocols we use today such as http and dns. And it sure as hell isn’t neutral. Google has no obligation to open this to anybody else. The huge data centres are simply the physical manifestation of the private internet – like the vast cooling towers at each end of the Holland or Rotherhithe Tunnels.