File this post under ill informed musings rather than insider info, but for a while now I’ve been expecting Google to take over the mobile space. I mentioned this on Twitter today and judging by the reactions from folks this isn’t math a lot of other people are doing. But to me it’s pretty clear. Let’s look at the situation…
As it stands I don’t know anyone who is truly happy with their phone service – people complain about expensive service with intolerable roaming charges. Spotty reception in even major cities. Hidden charges and lengthy contracts. Additionally the devices are either crazy expensive or poor design and features, if not total pieces of crap. On top of all this, everyone knows they are paying for something that is essentially already built – the phone companies aren’t looking to innovate or improve so much as stay a few cents cheaper then their closest competitor. I mean really, our technology can put a man on the moon but it can’t give me consistent mobile service between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica? Come on, I’m sure no one really believes they are doing the best they can, likely they are doing the least they can and still attack a price tag to it. I could be completely off base on that, but that’s my perception.
Now let’s look at Google. The have Android. They have Google Voice. They have a history of making services available for free because they benefit from the search traffic and advertising that goes along with it. Basically they make their cut in ways other than monthly fees, and generally not at the expense of the end user. With the introduction of Chrome and the forth coming Chrome OS it’s clear they have no problem taking on megolithic challenges in hopes of changing how people interact with the web and the device they use to access it. As mobile becomes more and more about the data, and voice becomes just another piece of data (along with SMS, e-mail, etc) instead of the main service there’s no reason to thing that isn’t in Google’s scope as well.
Consider this, what happens if Google figures out a way to provide data connections for extremely cheep. Suddenly anyone with an Android powered device and a Google Voice account no longer needs a mobile provider. And what if that was offered everywhere, no matter where you lived or where you traveled to. How can that possibly not be something Google is taking into account. If the only real cost was the device, that would really change a lot of things in the mobile market. Like, really mess up the profit margins of the established providers. Who wouldn’t pay a $175 termination fee to get out of an AT&T contract if they could have the same or better service and save a massive chunk off their phone bill every month?
Of course this is a scary idea to some people for the obvious “putting too much power in one company’s hand” reasons. And that’s true, but it’s also a little shortsighted I think. Pretend that all happens, who reading this thinks that the AT&Ts and Verizons and T-Mobiles and Rogers and SoftBanks of the world are just going to roll over and die? More likely they would be forced to get off their collective butts and actually do some work to try and compete with that. They’d have to come up with a reason to lure customers back to them, which could lead to some actual innovation. I don’t see a move like this from Google so much as a takeover as see it forcing the hands of the giants to earn their keep. I understand why the idea is frighting to some people, but I’m actually kind of excited by the prospect.
Without question there are some serious nuts Google would need to crack, no pun intended. The android devices I’ve played with have been nice enough, but not as impressive as the iPhone. Google’s “free and open” policy with apps for Android also are sub par in comparison to their Apple approved counterparts. A few companies have strangle holds on the service being provided over the airwaves. And when people think mobile phones Google isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet. Because if nothing else you can be sure that if I can jump to these conclusions, there are much smarter people at Google who have already thought of them too.
Update: Apple just blocked a bunch of Google Apps including Google Voice from the iTunes App Store, this only adds to this speculation. Apple knows Google is a threat, unfortunately by blocking them they only make them stronger. If people are given a choice between a platform that is limited to things that make a few companies money, and anything that anyone can think of, which one do you think will win out in the end. This was a very shortsighted move for Apple.