Google, Verizon Wireless Joust with Apple, ATandT over Mobile Web

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-10-07

Google, Verizon Wireless Joust with Apple, ATandT over Mobile Web

The collaboration of Google and Verizon Wireless could be just as formidable as the combination of Apple and AT&T in extending the mobile Internet, analysts said.

Google and Verizon Wireless Oct. 6 agreed to co-create smartphones, PDAs, netbooks, application and services, effectively pairing the Internet search and Web services leader and the No. 1 U.S. phone carrier, with 87.7 million customers.

In November, Verizon will announce support for two Android smartphones, with one possibly coming from Motorola, joining Android phones from T-Mobile and Sprint.

Verizon and Google executives on a conference call Oct. 6 said the phones will be preloaded with Android Market and will support Google applications such as Google Voice, a call management application Apple rejected because of features that competed with its iPhone and that AT&T vilified for blocking calls.

The partnership will challenge Apple and AT&T, which together have shipped more than 50 million iPhone and iPod Touch devices. These gadgets are backed by Apple's iPhone App Store, which has 85,000 applications and topped the 2 billion download mark last week.

Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle said the deal is good for both companies because Verizon Wireless remains the best of the U.S. carriers in terms of coverage and user satisfaction. Google, meanwhile, wants to own the smartphone user and will get that platform on the nation's largest wireless data network, whose engineers Google CEO Eric Schmidt praised for their grasp of scale.    

IDC analyst Scott Ellison likes that the companies have put aside their past quarrels over wireless spectrum, with Verizon embracing Android and Google's applications and Google embracing Verizon Wireless as the No. 1 network to help Android and Google Apps proliferate.

Having Android Market preinstalled on Verizon Wireless' Android devices will lure developers and validate Android as a solid ecosystem for application development, according to Ellison, who said:

"Verizon Wireless is clearly trying to find a counterweight to Apple, notwithstanding recent rumors that [it] may be the U.S. launch partner for an Apple tablet device. And it is increasingly clear as we close out the decade that it is really only Google and Android that offer such a PR counterweight in the U.S. based upon speed of innovation, appeal to the developer community, and brand perception."

Other Analysts Weigh In

This deal could also help support Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney's forecast that Android will own 14 percent of the global smartphone market in 2012, surging past the iPhone, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry smartphones. Nokia's Symbian platform, which currently commands half the smartphone market, will fall to about 39 percent by then, Dulaney told Computer World.

Dulaney believes Android will chomp market share at Apple's expense on the strength of its search and cloud computing applications for consumers and businesses, as well as its ability to find itself on dozens of Web-enabled devices. By contrast, Apple's iPhone lives in a closed environment, restricting innovation.

Google stands to benefit from having a broader footprint for its search and Web services, which will carry the company's mobile advertising tools. Andy Rubin, Google's director of engineering for Android, said Google expects mobile advertising will boost Google's bottom line because such ads will be tailored products and services based on users' physical locations.

Google just launched AdSense for Mobile, which offers larger ads for high-end smartphones such as the iPhone, Palm Pre and Android gadgets.

Bernstein Research's Jeffrey Lindsay noted in a recent research note that mobile advertising could become a $2.2 billion opportunity by 2013, led by search and display ad segments.

Interestingly, AT&T and Apple aren't the only vendors Google and Verizon Wireless are threatening with their pact. Microsoft in January agreed to provide mobile search and advertising for Verizon Wireless devices. While Verizon Wireless claimed the mobile Web market isn't a zero sum game, and that its deal with Google shouldn't impact its existing partnerships, IDC's Ellison noted that Microsoft is not a major player in the U.S. consumer mobile market, and Google Docs on Verizon Wireless Android devices could peck away at Microsoft's enterprise business.

Conversely, Verizon Wireless acknowledged Oct. 6 that while Google's search engine is the default search service on Android phones, some Verizon Android smartphones could feature Bing as their default search engine.

No zero sum game, indeed. Verizon Wireless is demonstrating a willingness to wheel and deal with whoever has the hot hand. Android, it seems, is pretty hot right now.  

Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin said phone carriers and OEMs are paying a lot of attention to the next wave of connected devices, which include not only smartphones and netbooks, but e-readers and navigation devices. Golvin told eWEEK:

"The Android platform is a good one for a lot of those, potentially. It makes sense that if you were carrier X and you were looking to expand the range of devices, Android looks like a good platform to bet on, but as one of your collective platform strategy components, not as an exclusive, I'm-putting-all-of-my-eggs-in-one-basket deal."


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