Google, Apple Are 'Frenemies,' But Android Feels the Heat

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-08-02 Print this article Print

There are a lot of stories painting Google and Apple as enemies, and there are some that paint the tech powers as "frenemies."

I'm of the latter camp, and so is Mike Elgan, who makes an elegant and compelling argument via The Cult of Mac about why the two can coexist peacefully. Why the two, in fact, need each other.

Noting that Apple and Google compete in the mobile space with iOS and Android, respectively, Elgan writes that the companies are two big fish trying to compete for food in a big lake or pond.

The aquatic analogy works until you realize the companies make their money differently, with Apple selling phones and apps and Google giving away the software to sell advertising via mobile searches and inside apps. Google sells apps, too, but only half as seriously as Apple so far.

There is the whole open versus closed platform dichotomy, which Elgan downplays. Moreover, he argues that Google mobile applications, such as Search, Maps, Google+ and others are part of what make the iPhone so great.

I'm fine with all that. But I'm also aghast that Elgan seems to have written the post without any thought as to where the Android versus iOS battle is going. Apple is suing the daylights out of Android, or at least the "Asia Inc." vendors Elgan mentioned. That includes Samsung and HTC. Stateside, Motorola is also withering under Cupertino's death ray.

Elgan writes:

Delusional advocates for one side or the other act as if one company is the only thing keeping the other model alive. It's as if Google suddenly vanished, there would only be "integrated" cell phones, or if Apple went away, we'd all live in a free and open technology Shangri La. In fact, they are two different worlds with two different groups of fans.

In the future, the vast majority of phone and tablet users will probably use Android-based devices. And the vast majority of phone and tablet profits will go to Apple. And this state of affairs is perfectly desirable to both Apple and Google.

Yes, perhaps in a utopian world. But if you take stock of how serious the lawsuits are--and I've read a lot of them--Apple is trying to kill Android. If it doesn't do so outright, it will at least make it so cost-prohibitive that any vendor would be scared to use it in gadgets.

So we don't know what the future holds. The cost of keeping Android alive as is may not be viable for Google, which is also battling Oracle in a serious patent infringement case that involves the actual baking of Android from Java.

So while there may be, as Elgan writes, "far less head-to-head competition between Apple and Google than you might think," it doesn't change the fact that Apple could take out Android with a couple of well-placed legal victories. It would be a domino effect.

Hell, Samsung is afraid to sell its Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia because of the ongoing legal imbroglio with Apple. Tell me that doesn't take power.

Finally, Elgan noted:

It's fun to watch the competitive rivalries in technology. We all like to champion our favorite platform, whether it's iOS or Android. But from Apple's business perspective, Google represents far more of a friend than an enemy.

Agreed. But from a consumer perspective, an Android phone owner such as myself can't look at anything Apple is doing versus Android as friendly.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has suggested former Google CEO Eric Schmidt started it by sitting on the board while Android was taking off. Schmidt has woken the sleeping giant because Jobs appears hell bent to take out Android.

It's not that Jobs seriously thinks Android is a threat to Apple's established iPhone and iPad brands. Who would believe that, given Apple's iPhone status at the high end and the wide gulf between the iPad and other tablets.

He feels betrayed or even duped by friend Schmidt, and he wants to make it as hard for Android OEMs to compete with his products as possible.

If Android dies along the way, so be it. That's just more iPhones and iPads he gets to sell.

And he would counter claims that he is narrowing choice by rampant litigation by pointing to Microsoft Windows Phone and Nokia, whose partnership is young, and HP's Palm webOS devices, which are also nascent under a new regime.

But the bottom line is Android gadget owners would be shut out of using phones powered by Google software and apps that are both tailored to run on those phones and in the cloud.

Did Google screw Apple? Sure. And now Google is reaping what it has sewn by a vindicative Jobs. The "frenemy" status only exists because Apple hasn't killed Android in court yet, but it's trying to do so. |

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