I’ve written in the past that I don’t like how Google’s business model pushes them to offer a mobile OS in Android but not necessarily to make that mobile OS a great one. My argument has been based on the fact that Google doesn’t really care how users get to Google properties where they’re served up Google AdWords, as long as they get there. Indeed, I’ve pointed out how Android users (and everyone who uses any Google property) aren’t Google’s customers, but rather we’re their product. In aggregate, we’re what Google sells to their advertisers.
I still think this way, even as I’m now rather firmly entrenched in the Android ecosystem. I own a Samsung Epic that runs on Sprint, and a Motorola Xoom wifi-only (which I swapped for a 3G/4G version because of Verizon’s schizophrenic tablet data plans), and I don’t see myself returning to my platform of choice, webOS, until 2012 at the earliest.
But Amazon’s recent moves in the Android market, specifically their new Appstore and Cloud Player music syncing service, makes me think that perhaps Google is better positioned than I imagined. Here’s why.
While some people call the Amazon Appstore and Cloud Player service “competition” to Google’s App Market and upcoming cloud services, I’m not so sure that’s true. Indeed, although Google perhaps makes some incremental revenues from selling apps in the Market, I don’t think they’re upset at all that there’s another venue for Android apps. In fact, I think they’re probably tickled pink—just like they don’t care how people get to Google properties, I don’t think they don’t care where people get value from Android, as long as there’s value to be gotten.
Think about it: Android exists not so much because Google really cares about creating, managing, and supporting a mobile platform. Rather, Android exists because Google wants to be sure that there’s a bunch of people out there using smartphones to click on Google ads. Whether they get to them via iOS, Windows Mobile, webOS, or Blackberry doesn’t matter to Google. What matters is the clicks.
Android is a smart play for Google because it hedges against moves like Apple creating their own ad network and potentially crowding Google out of iOS devices. That’s possible, and perhaps even a strategy. The same goes for Microsoft with Windows Phone 7, where Bing features prominently. It’s less likely with HP and RIM, because it’s doubtful that either of them think there’s room for yet another network serving up ads. But the fact remains: having a popular platform out there that Google can influence is important to them.
But what’s not so terribly important is what specifically makes that platform successful. If Amazon’s Appstore resolves some of the issues with the App Market, like pricing concerns, curation, discoverability, and the like, then Android is enhanced and Google wins. If Amazon’s Cloud Player helps to offset some of Apple’s iTunes advantages, then great. It’s one less headache for Google.
As long as Google remains Android’s source, then I don’t think they really care who else comes along for the ride. There are threats, of course, like Verizon’s replacing Google search with Bing, but those are (so far) few and far between. So let’s not think of Amazon as a Google competitor. Instead, they could very well be Google’s new best friend.
Update: Just a few days after I write this, it appears that Google doesn’t necessarily agree with me. It seems like they might be locking things down a bit and limiting what manufacturers and carriers can do with Android. Perhaps I’m not describing so much what Google’s strategy is, but rather perhaps what I think it should be.