Google had a good year in 2012. It remains the most popular search engine in the world by a distance. According to comScore, Google accounted for at least 65 percent of all searches online in the last six months of 2012. In the mobile space, IDC research projects a 68 percent market share for Android in 2012 and suggests that it will still be over 60 percent by 2016. There are more than 500 million Android smartphones and tablets out there already.
In December, Google revealed that its social network, Google+ has been joined by over 500 million people. The first video to break the 1 billion barrier was on YouTube (it was Gangnam Style). There are four billion video views on YouTube worldwide every single day. Gmail passed 425 million users in the summer to claim the world’s largest email provider title. Google’s Chrome browser is the most popular in the world with over 30 percent of all desktop and mobile users.
We’ve also seen a major move into the cloud with Google Drive and Google Music. As well as the release of successful hardware like the Nexus 7 tablet, then the Nexus 4 phone and the larger Nexus 10 tablet. Not to mention the roll out of Google Fiber, the development of Google Glass, and the driverless car project. The list of Google projects goes on and on.
The year of consolidation
For a long time the battle cry of Android fans has been “open vs closed”. It has long served as a neat sum-up of the differences between the top two mobile platforms and it still holds true. What is beginning to change is the perception that Google and Android is one and the same thing.
In 2012 Google has undertaken a serious consolidation project. Bringing everything under one banner and one privacy agreement makes your Google account a skeleton key for multiple services. That’s why Google can point to 500 million Google+ users, but then explain that only 135 million of them are actually active in the stream. You’ve automatically got a YouTube account whether or not you’ve ever used it. You need a Gmail account to use Android. A single sign-up makes life convenient, but we are beginning to get tied up in Google services.
Can you break free?
Put it this way – if you use Gmail, upload files to Google Drive, store your tunes at Google Music, backup photos on Google+, use Google Maps to navigate, watch videos on YouTube, and continue to start your web surfing sessions through the Google search engine, then you are heavily invested. Some people crow about privacy concerns, but the overwhelming majority of us are grateful for quality, free services that meet our needs. Surrendering some personal data to get those services feels like a fair trade.
You can legitimately ask “Why would I ever want to break free?” Fair enough. It’s a sweet deal and I’m right there with you. If things change down the line then it might develop into a concern, but let’s deal with that “if” it happens.
The Google experience
The thing is, if you want the best experience, the “Google experience”, on a smartphone or a tablet then you are going to buy an Android device. You could also buy an iOS device. For all the antipathy between the tech-obsessed fans on either side, the general public doesn’t care; they just want Google Maps on their iPhone. When Google released the Google Maps app for iOS it was downloaded 10 million times in the first 48 hours.
You can also get Google Search, Chrome, Gmail, YouTube, Google Earth, Latitude, Google Voice, Google+ and a few more apps besides for iOS. If you’re wondering why Google makes them it has something to do with the fact that iOS accounts for around 60 percent of all mobile and tablet web traffic.
It is strange to think that it’s easier to get dedicated Google apps on the iPad than it is on Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD (you can sideload, but your average user doesn’t want to have to bother about that).
Out in the cold
The big question we’ve been building to is “Why would you ever consider buying a BlackBerry or a Windows Phone if you’re invested in Google?” Neither platform can tempt Google in with a large, affluent user base that’s always online, like iOS can. There are no plans that we know of for Google to produce dedicated apps on those platforms. There doesn’t really appear to be much of an incentive either.
The lack of Google support is not really enough to sink BlackBerry 10 or Windows Phone 8. It probably is a deal breaker for some of us, but not everyone will think that way. There are alternatives and workarounds and you can go through your browser, but the overall experience on those platforms is going to be significantly worse for the average user who is invested in Google.
Google’s in the driving seat
If you look at the fuss over Google dropping support for Microsoft’s proprietary Exchange ActiveSync protocol for syncing email you get a hint of Google’s potential power. If Google refused to play nice what kind of hit would other platforms take? You get the sense it’s a card that Google isn’t looking to play, support for EAS was extended in the end, but it’s up the sleeve all the same.
Can other platforms survive without Google services? Yes, they can. If Google removed support for iOS completely tomorrow (if such a thing was possible) then some people might jump ship, but there’s no way it would spell the end of the platform. For BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone 8 it’s a much tougher proposition.
Fundamentally Google wants people to use its services. The whole business relies on huge numbers of people and its thirst for market share and data has led it to give away amazing products and services that other companies would have (and already were) charging you for. Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but Google services look as close as you’re going to get right now.
What do you think? Would you consider a mobile platform that doesn’t have good support for Google services? How invested in Google are you? Does Google’s consolidation concern you? Could you just walk away from Google? Let’s hear it, post away.