Google’s problem with Windows Phone and does it matter?

In a recent interview Google stated they will not devote any resources to making apps for either Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8. They have also now ceased consumer support for ActiveSync.  Some are calling it ‘war’ while others passionately question if Windows Phone can survive without Google products and services.

The relationship between Google and Microsoft has always been somewhat hostile. In many ways the battle they engage in now can be seen as a kind of echo from a distant technological past. Google have dug in their heels and to some degree shown their true colours by declaring zero support for Microsoft’s newest operating systems, Windows Phone and Windows 8.

But does it matter and has anything really changed?

Core Microsoft Services

I mentioned an echo of previous battles past as it is by looking back that we get a good measure of the forces that have shaped the Google of today. It is impossible to talk of Google’s plans and current product line up without talking about Eric Schmidt. He has been at war with Microsoft for most of his long career, manning the defiant guns at both Sun Microsystems and Novell, two of Microsoft’s previously biggest competitors. Both of those companies have fallen by the wayside but Eric Schmidt has perhaps never stopped fighting that war, he is a true veteran of this on-going conflict.

"They [Google] realised long ago that it was not enough to exist as a semi-parasitic add-on for Microsoft Windows or to only live in a browser.."

Eric Schmidt was put in charge of Google to guide the young company through the painful early years and during that time he has moulded the company into what it is today. This is a company that matches Microsoft product-for-product in almost every category. Even though Google is a search company at its core it has invested time and money into developing its own operating system (Android, Chrome) and even a productivity suite. So transfixed with competing with Microsoft often they are happy to dump them in the marketplace for free, Google Docs is a perfect example of this.

There are of course many reasons why Google has chosen to make its own operating systems, they realised long ago that it was not enough to exist as a semi-parasitic add-on for Microsoft Windows or to only live in a browser.  As an advertising company it is their goal to know as much about you as possible. When it came to Desktop Windows, users didn’t feel too comfortable with Google Search riffling through their files on the hard drive. No, they needed to build their own OS and bake in this data collection from the get go. A new delivery system to ensure their supply of user information is never cut off or restricted was required, hello Android OS.

The recent ‘news’ announcement on not committing time or resources to developing for Windows Phone is somewhat disingenuous. Google has no presence on Windows Phone at all (save for a lousy search "app") they have not committed any resources since the platform launched. Google search on Windows Phone is one of the most basic apps available, barely enough to call itself a real app. Perhaps just a placeholder on the Windows Phone Store in case someone else takes their name? Google on Windows Phone is not an app, not by any stretch of the imagination. Why would they bother?

"Does Windows Phone need Google and its services to be successful, no."

So we often hear how Google make apps for Apples iOS devices and that example is held high by many who wish to make something of the lack of Google apps for Windows Phone. Often they fail to explore the real reasons why. The reason why Google is present on iOS is two–fold, it has sufficient numbers of users to data mine and it has a weak collection of service offerings. It is easy for Google to provide alternative search, maps and even mail on Apple’s iOS devices because Apple is either missing entirely some services or doesn’t have the same level of depth in some offerings. It is something Apple has been working hard to rectify but after their maps fiasco backfired so publicly they might be feeling too burnt to try that again. For now, Google will benefit from all the data points that iPhone users will provide as they trundle about using their Google maps platform. Google for the time being have a place on iOS because they can offer Apples users something which Apple cannot itself.

In many ways Microsoft and Google seemingly have something to compete with the other in almost every product field. Both companies by their own endeavours now look staggeringly similar, Search, Mail, Operating Systems, Productivity Software, Mobile and Mapping. Google roll most of their products into the Android platform, this is their delivery system and if you are invested in Google products and services this is where you can find them all. 

On the Microsoft side there is currently no better place to experience the full gamut of Microsoft’s services line-up than what you find Windows Phone. Is it here more than anywhere else that the future betting and eco system play can be seen clearly, Microsoft like Google owns the full stack.

Some Google Services

Google Web Apps

The question has to be asked, where would Google fit onto a device that has Bing search hardwired into a dedicated search button? By integrating Bing into Windows Phone by way of a dedicated physical button Microsoft has clearly determined there is no place for Google search on their newest platform. It’s possible this early first move may have been sufficient to keep Google away from Windows Phone.

"It simply doesn’t leave much wiggle room for Google to offer a compelling set of apps"

Microsoft has invested countless millions into building out an entire web platform to compete with Google, much in the same way Google built its own OS to do the same. As a result Microsoft has a fully realised web eco system, SkyDrive, Office on the Web, Outlook, Bing and MSN to name a few headliners. In many cases they offer a far better experience to Google’s offerings both on the web and on their Android devices.

Two services which get the most attention are Gmail and Google Docs. Does it damage the Windows Phone platform to have to ‘settle’ with Outlook and Office as alternatives? I think not, what Microsoft offers here are both best in class, thanks in no small part to the success of Google Docs and Gmail.

Windows Phone Microsoft Apps and Services

Microsoft apps and services Windows Phone 8

There is no question that Google doesn’t produce fantastic products: search, mail and maps are held high as good examples. At present both companies offer pretty much the same services, in some cases they are better; in some cases they are worse. The problem for Windows Phone is that Microsoft has done such a good job of integrating all their offerings into one device. It simply doesn’t leave much wiggle room for Google to offer a compelling set of apps.

We are moving to a world where these eco systems will finally close, Google is rapidly reaching an inflection point where it may finally be able to shake off Microsoft and Apple. All three tech giants are moving to a place where they simply offer it all, similar to the mega supermarket chains that offer everything from Groceries to Insurance plans.

In time we’ll figure out which one we like best, get the loyalty card and for the most part choose which one we prefer, maybe stray occasionally for a touch of variety. The situation we see with Google and its stance with Windows 8 and Windows Phone could at some point be mirrored when Apple does what Microsoft have and close the gaps in their services.

SkyDrive + Eco System Sync

Eco System Sync - SkyDrive connecting the dots..

The war of course doesn’t end with Windows Phone, Microsoft have far bigger guns to bring into play in this skirmish. Windows 8 has just launched, with that comes an operating system built from the ground up to be the embodiment of Microsoft’s vast eco system.  All of its main services are built right in, Maps, Cloud Storage, Online Store, Xbox, Mail and Bing search. Where is the space for Google to offer something Microsoft cannot?  There is also the highly successful proxy war that Microsoft is holding behind closed doors to secure revenue from device makers selling Android devices.

"Microsoft itself holds the key to Windows Phone becoming a successful platform.."

It is fair for Google to choose to not develop for a platform that doesn’t really need it but suggesting this is because it a lack of users is just hot air. Adding more fuel to the fire Google has now removed the ability to use ActiveSync with its services for consumers (paid Google Apps subscribers can still have access). It is clear they are willing to alienate a huge tract of their user base to drawn the line in the sand with their eco system, if you want to use their stuff you’ll need to go directly to them. Will they use the same strong-arm tactics with Apple when the time comes?  By proxy iOS users are all already loyal Google fans, look at the return of the maps to see how much so.

To hear Google reject Windows 8 is something new. Only time will tell if they have to eat a serious portion of humble pie and build out their offering there.

Does Windows Phone need Google and its services to be successful? No. The fate of Windows Phone and its adoption in the marketplace does not rest in the hands of Google. Microsoft itself holds the key to Windows Phone becoming a successful platform, rapid evolution of its cloud services and integration with the rest of the MS eco system. 

Robert Brand