Google Plays Evil in Apple iPhone vs. Android Battle

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What would you think if your local supermarket gave the best shelf space to own-brand products chosen by itself?

What if when you went down the coffee aisle, you found loads of coffees from the supermarket, many more from its biggest competitor, but all the other coffees were made available on a shelf you had to stoop down to see?

Well, that's how I see one recent move by search giant, Google, to offer links to Android and iPhone apps at the top of its mobile search results.

"As of today, if you go to on your iPhone or Android-powered device and search for an app, we'll show special links and content at the top of the search results. You can tap these links to go directly to the app's Android Market or iPhone App Store page," explains Google, helpfully on its Google Mobile blog.

It is good to see Google's avoiding accusations of complete favoritism as it presents these apps links to the mobile users favoring its search service by also offering links to the iTunes App Store. But it leaves me feeling strangely troubled.

What's Bugging Me?

Google already single-handedly accounts for 6 percent of global internet traffic. And why would any other competitor really want to bother with search when Google has 90 percent of it.

This leading position is why including Android app plugs above mobile search results from Google bothers me.

(And that's not just because Google might be taking 5 percent of sales value from every iPhone app sold via a possible Affiliate deal with iTunes. UPDATE: Google PR has let me know it isn't making money on an affiliate deal, saying, "These are not affiliate links (we always mark links as sponsored if we generate revenue from a click!"))

It is also because of the other smartphone platforms that are being left out. Where's RIM's BlackBerry? Where's Microsoft's mobile offerings? Where's Nokia?

This matters. comScore's recently published research on the popularity of mobile applications, claimed that 69.6 million US mobile users accessed an app on their phones in April: that's up 28 per cent year-on-year. App usage is booming.

Don't Be... Stupid

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has come in for some criticism over his suggestions he didn't anticipate Google would get so deeply into mobile.

Perhaps he missed Google's mobile-focused rash of acquisitions while Eric Schmidt sat on Apple's board. Jobs frequently points out that Apple didn't enter the search market.

Speaking at D: All Things Digital earlier this week he confirmed Apple keeps some Google products on the iPhone, saying, "Just because you're a competitor, doesn't mean you have to be rude."

Well, apart from his comments on Google's "Don't Be Evil" motto, which he calls out for the sociopathic BS so many industry observers believe the slogan actually is.

Google's move to collect private data -- the actual content of traffic -- from unprotected wireless networks all over the world while gathering Street View data calls the company's ability to avoid doing evil into question.

Sure, I know Google says it didn't mean to gather this information, never used this information, and most likely the data is of no use anyway..but that isn't the point.

Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has dubbed the incident possibly "the largest privacy breach in history across Western democracies".

Even well-intentioned people make mistakes.

When those mistakes extend to the behavior of a giant international global corporation, those mistakes are magnified. Evil deeds sometimes begin with good intent.

Doublethink: War Is Peace

As the war between Apple and Google seems set to grow ever more ugly, with Apple likely preparing to introduce its own user interface for the future of TV (though keeping the detail of this plan pretty quiet), should Google be using its lead position in the search market to evangelize just two of five leading mobile platforms?

I'm sure it doesn't intend to compete against Microsoft, RIM or Nokia by omitting them from inclusion within its list of approved app stores.

But surely it is crystal clear that Google's inclusion of competing iPhone App links alongside those for Android above its mobile search results is an attempt to disguise its inherent commitment to the mobile OS it invented.

Google's attempting to evangelize its own mobile platform by including links to the fact that that platform exists beside mobile search results.

The fault here is that with 90 percent of existing search traffic, that evangelical approach to Android may serve to skew mobile users in their perception of the smartphone market.

What Is at Stake

In essence these actions could be construed by some as to say, "Android and iPhone offer apps. No other smartphone platforms count."

Some may say, Google, already in a position as curator of so much of the world's access to information, is moving to create the perception that the smartphone industry is already a two horse race.

And while you need to be using a specific mobile device to get these results, which are only available in the US, it remains in question why Google didn't offer full scale support for mobile devices on launch, rather than somewhat shadowly promising such support "later".

And while an Apple Holic like myself clearly champions Apple's iPhone in this race, it remains pretty clear that there are five lead horses in the game, not just two.

This story, "Google Plays Evil in Apple iPhone vs. Android Battle" was originally published by Computerworld.

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