March 14, 2012
Android Only a Stopgap for Google

I am an Android and I am a Chrome(book) user, among others. Given the way Chrome has developed over the last years, I strongly believe Google’s Chrome (and HTML5) will ultimately replace Google’s own, popular Android (a native OS), making Android more of a stopgap rather than a longterm strategy for Google.

I have written before why App Developers like HTML5 compared to native OSs.

However, the fact that Google may want to cannibalize its own, bestselling mobile OS is a more tricky case to make— but here’s my reasoning:

A browser/HTML5 based app ecosystem has 3 major disadvantages over native ones like iOS and Android:

  • Discoverability
  • Identity
  • Payments

I argue that Google’s strengths allow them to solve these shortcomings better than anyone else, thus making them a natural ally for the adoption of HTML5 at the expense of native OSs including their own Android:

For Discoverability let’s have a look how people like you and me find websites today. Oh, they use Google’s search. A move to HTML5 would therefore shift the control of discoverability (and associated search revenues) to Google, on ALL platforms, away from App Store owners like Apple or Microsoft. So, clearly, HTML5 adoption on any smartphone would strengthen Google’s very core cash cow and far beyond its Android installed base (which is only about 15% of the entire installed mobile handset base).

Looking at the case for Identity you may know that Google’s Chrome allows you to “log into the browser”, which means your browsing experience (and associated functions like sync’ing of passwords, history, bookmarks and open Tabs across devices) are personalized (and, of course, you now can be targeted and tracked while in any app, you don’t need unreliable cookies any more). So Google’s reach would also be as strong if not stronger as before, as (re-)targeting becomes even easier when you also control the in-app user experience, rather than only the OS experience and the in-app banner ads, as they do today. This benefit may be limited to a Google smartphone userbase only, but clearly there are significant marginal benefits for Google from a shift to HTML5.

For Payments the case is most difficult to make, as Google’s Checkout and Wallet efforts are only slowly gaining traction. Given the interactions I had with some Google guys over the past few weeks, though, I feel they are strongly pushing to finally crack this nut. I believe the mean to get there is likely the SMEs, which already use Google’s productivity suite (Apps) in large numbers, but will likely see a much more comprehensive offer around advertising/places, ERP and payments in a similarly well integrated and super-affordable SaaS model (expect an acquisition or two in that space).  Google isn’t strong in payments in neither Android nor in the Web. So this point is somewhat indifferent to the underlying platform. But by going an SME route, they would potentially undermine some of Apple’s competitiveness as Apple has no real SME offering (and will find it extremely hard to pull that off), and potentially turn a broad weakness of theirs in payments (compared to Apple’s iTunes) into a compelling advantage in a re-leveled playing field.

All this makes me believe that Google would be a massive advocate for HTML5 to replace native OSs, as this serves their competitive strengths and undermines Apple’s (margin) leadership in smartphones.