Google and Yahoo, for the second time, announced new mobile activities on the same day. Their approaches, while quite different, will increasingly bring the giants into conflict in the emerging market for delivering consistent services and content across home, PC and mobile devices – and will enable them to challenge the handset makers and carriers to be the dominant mobile brands.
But while Yahoo is sticking to its core capabilities, and simply increasing the range of delivery platforms, Google has a wider agenda that will increasingly embrace the wireless network itself, and has even gained patents covering fast cellular data transmission.
The key mobile announcement by Google at last week’s CES consumer electronics show was a deal with Motorola to offer single button access to its search engine from selected Motorola handsets.
The two companies have signed a three year tie-up which will see Motorola phones carrying Google in a bid to boost usage of cellphones for internet access and so pique operator interest.
Google could sign similar deals with other handset makers.
On the surface this appeared to be a simple agreement that would increase the appeal of the phones to end users and drive increased traffic. But dig a little deeper, and the conflict of interest that will become critical in any dealings with Google becomes clear.
The handset majors, once unquestionably the strongest brand owners in the mobile value chain, have in the past few years been fighting to defend that position from the increasingly high profile branding of their operator customers, with activities like Vodafone Live! As handsets evolve beyond being mere voice instruments to carry complex content and services, the situation is only getting more perilous for the phonemakers, as content and applications providers’ brands also vie for attention. The threat to the handset manufacturer’s brand, and therefore some of its competitiveness and value, is particularly clear in the MVNO virtual operator sector, where operator and content brand can be merged, as in the case of Disney or sports broadcaster/MVNO ESPN.
It is also particularly strong as user demand for the open internet experience on the handset rises, bringing internet application brands to the fore. None is more powerful than Google, and by providing a Google button on high value models, Motorola has lost the chance, that phonemakers still had until recently, to create their own internet experience with, for instance, ‘Moto Search’.
The same dilemma was seen in Motorola’s troubled relationship with Apple over putting the iTunes service on the ROKR handset.
It is notable that the newly update ROKR no longer features iTunes, but instead offers the Motorola iRadio music service.
Yahoo, for its part, is taking a slightly different approach from Google, as it launches Yahoo Go. It is taking a more applications- centric view, and seeking to offer an integrated parcel of services that could make it the hub of a user’s mobile experience.
Again, this is a role that carriers or even handset makers could have fulfilled in the past, but have failed to do so, with piecemeal offerings that will now be subsumed by offerings transferring from the PC internet world – threatening to make those PC-focused brands dominant over those of the mobile specialists.
Yahoo Go Mobile allows users to access their online content via wireless devices, initially the Nokia Series 60 smartphones, which are heavily geared to open internet access. The service offers a streamlined version of the links available to Yahoo users on a PC, reducing the main menu content into major categories such as search, mail, news and calendar.
This will be an element of a broader Yahoo Go platform to extend the user interface and personalized services across multiple devices, from televisions to handset, with a consistent experience.
Both Yahoo and Google aim to extend their brand, services, environment and advertising revenues across multiple platforms in this way, not only boosting their finances but challenging Microsoft’s position at the heart of the end user online experience. But Google seems prepared to stray further from its core skills in its quest and could enter the wireless network and hardware businesses, also options for Microsoft.
Future Google moves
There is intense speculation that Google will create a Windowsfree, Google branded low cost PC – which could spawn other devices, even cellphones, or a home entertainment center, similar to a Windows Media Center or Mac Mini, integrating televisions, phones and computers. The key would be to provide the fundamental software functions itself, and Google is already after patents in key areas. In November, research firm Classified Intelligence revealed a patent application for Google Automat, which would support a payment mechanism for consumer-to-business online transactions. The search giant also hopes to patent its own digital rights management system. This combination could provide a compelling platform and revenue stream for sharing with content providers on cellphones and other devices.
Another interesting patent awarded recently to Google was one accelerating data transmission on a CDMA network using a “short, mismatched antenna”. Although the company has been moving towards owning networks to expand access to its services – with bids to build municipal Wi-Fi metrozones in some US cities, and the acquisition of fiber backhaul assets – this new patent is the first clear indication of Google seeking to influence the development of wireless technologies themselves, in order to support its key applications, such as fast search, more effectively and continue to drive advertising revenues.