Antitrust and Cell Phones


In my last three posts (onetwo and threeI have been discussing the risks of antitrust for Google. With Android Google controls what applications are installed as the base as well as the search function. In South Korea apparently this is a big deal. Which took me the points of IE and WMP in my last post. Most people use the default programs on their computer or phones unless they have some external reasoning to use a different product. In the case of iTunes and WMP it was the iPod which drove the usage away from the default. However for many people that don’t have an iPod there isn’t much point is using anything else. Especially if you only play CDs on your computer or you have a very small MP3 collection.

There are, of course, other factors which may drive users to other products, such as seeking the ability to play lossless files instead of MP3s. On computers, in my opinion, it is much easier to take control over the device and install other applications or systems to replace the default. You just need to know how to find the program you want and install it. With phones this is much more difficult. I think that the Google Search functionality is going to be the first of many of these investigations.

For other applications that serve the same function as the search, it may be difficult to acquire a different app. At the app store for whatever phone you’re using, there’s a gate keeper (is there a confused keymaster too?). In the case of Apple they reject applications that duplicate a program which comes preinstalled on the phone. I’m fully expecting that these rejections will eventually become the target of some antitrust investigation. Google is better than Apple in this regard, however there is control over what goes into the app store. Interesting note there are at least 4 Bing search apps in the Android market place.

Google does allow third party app stores on Android. I think that this is a really smart move. This will actually prevent some future antitrust investigation that I think Apple will have to face. There will be a market of app market places that cater to different kinds of needs or may be phone company specific. For instance Samsung has their own app store on my Galaxy S. I would not be surprised if Steam, EA and other digital content providers are already planning on creating app stores for the phones. While some of the major game developers aren’t creating games for phones yet, I believe that will change in the future. With Windows 8 going to be used for PCs, Tablets, and phones why wouldn’t larger game developers created stripped down versions of their games to be played on phones?

However, I’ve wandered a bit from my initial point. While phones are different than computers in some pretty significant ways, they are small computers. They are more powerful than the computers I grew up with. Google will need to be aware of this and will need to evolve how it deals with the android system. The controls put on users in phones will eventually be forced out of existence by law suits and users demanding more freedom over their phones. Eventually, phones will require as much freedom as a PC, especially as we start to bridge between the two platforms.

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