Google Zaps Iphone Interface

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On the verge of releasing what could be some scary Q4 results for the Company That Can Do No Evil (at least according to some Motley Fools), Google has managed to tick off a key component of its future success: mobile geeks.

With no warning and for no apparent reason, Google switched its iPhone users from a custom iGoogle page to a generic Google Mobile one that doesn't work nearly as well.

The sky didn't fall. The transition to a new administration continued unimpeded. Dick Cheney still wheeled his way out of Washington, D.C., looking like Dr. Strangelove with a painful rectal condition.

But scores of folks on the Google Forums were somewhat less than amused. One commenter calling himself "howiedeano" summed it up when he wrote:

"Google seems to hate its users, making the decision we're all morons and deserve to have our service downgraded, thanks Google, thanks for not letting me choose which version of iGoogle I can view on my smart phone."

A cynical mind might assume Google is screwing over iPhone users to favor its own Android platform, but nope. The same change applies there, and T-Mobile G1 users are equally ticked off.

A Google employee known only as "Paul" (one of the apostles, maybe?) posted the following non-explanation for the move:

"We've decided to direct iPhone users to the standard mobile iGoogle page. We've found that people hit iGoogle from lots of different phones -- we want to ensure you'll all see the same version.... Most or all of your existing content should translate over to the standard mobile version. The only exception would be any gadgets that aren't compatible with most mobile browsers."

That didn't mollify anyone, especially posters who noted that their existing content did not in fact translate over to the standard mobile version. The overly caffeinated "ribald eddie" wrote:

"You guys have gone absolutely stark raving mad if you think this is going to be viewed in a positive light. Whatever happened to 'Do No Evil?' This seems like pure evil: making an user [sic] experience worse on a competitor's device."

Note: The Technoholic blog claims to have found a partial fix for iPhone users.

Aside from the fun of seeing people get themselves twisted in knots over a mobile browser, there's a bigger issue involved: Google's market power coupled with its blithe lack of accountability. That's a bad combination.

We're rapidly approaching a world where always-connected devices like handsets will be how most of us access the Net (and, by extension, everything else) most of the time. Google wants to dominate that market the way Microsoft has dominated desktops. We all know what's happened there, and aside from a handful of Microsoft fanboys (you know who you are) nobody really wants to see a repeat.

I asked Google to enlighten us as to what went into that decision. Here's what a spokesperson there had to say:

"In an effort to make our iGoogle mobile experience more consistent, we're no longer supporting a special version of iGoogle for the iPhone. Those who currently use iGoogle for the iPhone will be directed to the main mobile version of iGoogle."

Sounds an awful lot like Redmond to me.

What do you think? Is Google the new Microsoft? Post your thoughts below or e-mail me direct: cringe (at) infoworld (dot) com.

This story, "Google Zaps Iphone Interface" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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