Google's mobile move: awe-inspiring and terrifying

Google's announcement on Monday of a mobile development platform that could radically alter the wireless market is yet another example of the lengths the company will go to keep its advertising business growing at a jaw-dropping rate.

It is also another awe-inspiring -- or terrifying, depending on one's perspective -- display of the engineering and business resources Google can unleash and of the power it has to influence, disrupt and rearrange markets.

It did it, originally, in the search engine market, of course, by building a better mousetrap at a time when finding information on the Web was a thoroughly unsatisfying experience because the incumbents for years had provided substandard services.

Along the way, it found a way to generate loads of advertising revenue, creating the empire that has given it the financial might to march into new markets and, while not always succeeding, at least spooking the existing players.

For example, in 2004, Gmail shook up the stale Webmail market, rousing complacent players like Microsoft and Yahoo and forcing them to innovate again in order to meet Google's challenge.

Likewise, it has gone, with various degrees of success, into instant messaging, photo management, radio, print and TV advertising, enterprise search, Web analytics and hosted business applications.

Now it has set its sights on the mobile market, where until now it has been an outsider with, at best, a peripheral role.

It's mighty ambitious of Google to waltz in and attempt to change basic, ingrained rules in a notoriously cutthroat market with powerful and long-established gatekeepers that are intensely protective of their own interests.

"What we have here is Google trying to move the whole mobile Internet forward through this alliance," said industry analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence.

In a nutshell, Google announced a free, open-source application development platform called Android for mobile devices with the intention of eclipsing existing operating systems from Microsoft, Symbian, Palm and others.

In typical Google fashion, the move seems thought through with chess-like thoroughness.

"It's significant that they didn't build an actual Google phone" said Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney, referring to rumors to that effect. Such a move would have angered many potential partners. "That would have been a disaster."

Android will have a complete set of components, including a Linux-based operating system, middleware stack, customizable user interface and applications.

Google envisions that with Android, developers will flood the mobile market with new applications and online services that can be written once and deployed in many phones, something that, as Google sees it, the current mobile technical fragmentation prevents.

The goal: to radically improve the creation, delivery and provision of mobile online services and applications, in the hopes that as people find the experience more satisfying, their mobile Web and Internet usage will balloon, along with online ad revenue.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service

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