There was a good analysis in the NYT yesterday regarding the Google Android strategy, which according to author Saul Hansell, is intended not to make money for Google, but to block Microsoft from getting traction in the mobile space. Given that Google is giving Android away, it's a theory that makes a lot of sense.
Yes, There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch
For Google, the apparent reason for giving Android away is that if it expands access to the internet, it increase the likelihood that people will use Google services and view Google Ads. And Google Ads are really what it's all about for Google. Hansell writes:
After all, Google isn’t approaching smartphones like a normal business. It has made Android open source available freely to any handset maker to use and change at will. It says its only reason is to expand the use of the Internet on cellphones because it believes this will allow more people to use its search engine and other products on which it sells ads.
He goes onto say that Microsoft is handling the Mobile Windows market like any other, charging for the right to install Windows Mobile on each phone, just as they charge PC makers to install Windows on each machine they sell.
Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Freedom?
Microsoft says when you get Win Mobile, you get a familiar interface, familiar tools and you can get up and running quickly. There's something to be said for this. With Google's strategy, the handset makers get Google for free and they can adapt it as they wish, but when you pick up the phone, you have to learn how to do everything based on that handset maker's implementation. It's entirely possible, in fact, that you could could own one Android phone, then pick up a second one from a different manufacturer and not know how to use it.
But reports from far and wide suggest that Microsoft is playing into Google's strategy because the most recent release, 6.5, has not received favorable reports. Even Steve Ballmer, the Microsoft CEO admitted the company screwed up the release. When a lot of people expect Microsoft to screw up in this fashion, it's not a great testimonial when your own CEO comes out and says as much.
And Then There's iPhone and Blackberry
All of this doesn't even take into account that as of right now, it's neither Windows Mobile nor Android which are at the top of the market share heap. Instead it's Apple and Blackberry, two companies that have gone at it from different directions, but are finding great success.
So it may be that Hansell is right. Google doesn't give a hoot about making money directly on Android (or it would be), but the mobile revenue stream should matter to Microsoft because all things point to an increasingly mobile world.
It would be nice for Redmond if we had a complete Windows experience across our entire lives. We used it at home, on our laptops and netbooks, at work and on our phones (even in our cars), but in reality the world is becoming more fractured than that, and if Microsoft wants to play in the Mobile space it needs to come out with an OS that kicks butt and takes names, a task made harder by its own ineptitude, not to mention a competitor running interference with a free OS, and the iPhone and Blackberry sitting back and capturing the lion's share of the market.