Google Maps pinBack in April it was announced that Motorola was switching to Boston-based Skyhook for location services on its Android phones. That never happened, apparently, and now Skyhook has filed suit against Google, saying it strong-armed Motorola into breaking contracts. A separate lawsuit alleges patent infringement.

The suit basically says that Google -- and VP of engineering Andy Rubin specifically -- told smartphone manufacturers they couldn't ship Android phones unless they used Google's location service, and that Motorola was told to halt orders even after Skyhook had been tested and approved by Google. Skyhook also said the same thing happened with another unnamed company.

So what does this mean for us, the end users? In the short-term, not too much, so long as there's not some crazy ruling that halts all current shipments until this is sorted out. (And that's pretty far-fetched.) Like all lawsuits of this nature, this one's going to take time to hash out. We may yet see Skyhook used on Android phones; we may see the lawsuit disappear. We'll just have to wait and see.

That said, it wouldn't disappoint us to see Google tightening the reins a bit on what can be changed at the lower levels of Android. (We're looking at you, Verizon.) We just hope they do it in a way that doesn't break existing contracts -- or hurt end users. [NYT]

 

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Skyhook sues Google over alleged strong-arming of Motorola

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here is what skyhook is:

Skyhook was founded in 2003 to capitalize on the increasing demand for location-based services. The first location technologies, GPS and cell tower triangulation, were inadequate - leaving frustrated mobile consumers with slow and inaccurate positioning information. In response, Skyhook developed the Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS). Taking advantage of the hundreds of millions of Wi-Fi access points throughout populated areas, WPS consistently provides accurate location information indoors and in urban areas. Skyhook also provides XPS, the world's first true hybrid positioning system. Taking advantage of the relative strengths of several location technologies, WPS, GPS, cellular tower triangulation, XPS is the fastest, most accurate, most reliable and most flexible location system on the market today. Skyhook's patented XPS technology is positioned to location-enable hundreds of millions of applications and mobile devices, including smartphones, netbooks, laptops, and gaming devices. From traditional navigation apps to cutting edge augmented reality browsers, today's mobile applications require location that works reliably and quickly everywhere consumers travel, from rural to urban areas, indoors and outside.

XPS is the only location system that meets today's consumer, developer and device maker demands for location performance

As usual, the boiler plate from the website (or where ever it was copied and pasted from) is less than illuminating.

Skyhook did what Google got in trouble for. They drove around with a gps and a wifi and mapped the location of Wifi access points.

Both Public and private APs. Probably yours. Probably mine.

Phones that use skyhook (such as iPhones) can read the signal of APs they aren't even connected to, send the mac address of that AP to skyhook and get a location back that is very accurate. (150 foot radius).

If they do that with two or three APs that they can "see" (even without connecting to those APs) the positioning can be as precise as GPS, far more precise than tower triangulation, and it gives Assisted GPS chips a running start on a true GPS fix.

Google built their own database of APs while driving Street View cars around.

(And Google, unlike Skyhook, because they tried to live up the their "Don't be evil" motto got in trouble when they revealed the fact that they accidentally collected more data than JUST the wifi Mac Address from the WiFi beacon. Who knows what Skyhook collects.)

Why does Google what to have the phones hit their database instead of Skyhooks?

Once the phone gets a true GPS fix, the hints used by the Assisted GPS chips don't matter. Both these competing services simply allow the GPS lock onto satellite faster.

But I suspect that Google can use the hits on the database help keep the database up to date, which improves the quality of their location based services, traffic monitoring, and social web stuff, EVEN if the user never opens Google Maps or search.

Actually it's not at all.

Motorola can still use skyhook. They can use skyhook in android and release the phones AS android phones. The only difference is, if they use skyhook, the devices cannot be "Google Experience" devices.

No one really knows what all the benefits of this tag are. But at the least it's a closer development relationship with Google, early access to the newest versions of android (since there is less change needed, this should mean faster updates) and who knows what else.

Motorola, using Skyhook, can still make a fully functional Android Device.

Motorola, using Skyhook, can't make a "Google Experience" android device, because they replaced one of Google's core services.

"it wouldn't disappoint us to see Google tightening the reins a bit on what can be changed at the lower levels of Android. (We're looking at you, Verizon.) We just hope they do it in a way that doesn't break existing contracts -- or hurt end users."

Cheers to that Phil!

That's kind of a double edged sword isn't it... The more Google reigns in manufacturer and carrier customizations the more alike all the phones start to become and the less choices the consumer ends up with, and I think we all agree that freedom of choice is one of the things that makes Android great.

Granted, this goes way past UI customizations, and you could argue that it's ultimately hardware innovations that set most phones apart anyway... But still, if Moto wants to use Skyhook why not let them, if people prefer phones w/Google's Location services and Moto doesn't provide that option then the market will just bear that out and Moto will lose sales.

As long as Skyhook actually works properly it doesn't really make much of a difference to the user anyway... Unlike UI customizations which do have an impact on the experience and how the platform is viewed as a whole. Google could possibly be losing out on data gathering opportunities but that's about it.

Because part of the reason Google developed android was to bolster their own data. And considering Google is at it's core an ad agency, losing data hits their bottom line.

They don't need to reign in hardware makers that much, they just need to really push that there is a distinction between "Google Experience" devices and devices that just happen to run android.

Google isn't saying "Hey, you CANT use skyhook" they're saying "If you want to retain the benefits of the "Google Experience" tag, you need to stick with Google services. If you don't want those benefits, you can choose soemone else.

Like it or not, if Motorola signed an exclusive deal with skyhook, there is NO WAY they could release anything and have it tagged "with Google"

One might argue that using all those google services for free, maps, talk, gmail, Voice, etc, etc, has to cost google a lot of money, and letting them mine anonymous hits to their WIFI Access Point database is a small price to pay.

The real question, is why in hell did Moto want to PAY to use Skyhook, when Google provides that service for free?

I think the biggest difference here is that Samsung isn't releasing their phones as "with Google" devices. They're taking advantage of the open-sourced portions of android, but they're not seeking that label (thus, approval from google).

Motorola, on the other hand, likes having that with google tag because it allows them to work on upcoming releases earlier than just after the source code is released, and I'm sure there are other perks to releasing a google approved handset.

For something like what they did with the Backflip, I'm sure Google wasn't happy about it, but that was ONE device, so it wasn't an issue. But if Motorola signed a multi-million dollar exclusive deal with skyhook, that hits all their phones (like if they signed a deal to make yahoo the exclusive search on ALL their android phones) This directly cuts into the usefulness of android for Google, so of course they're not going to treat those hardware makers the same.

I think what Google really needs to do is clearly define what it requires for handset makers to meet in order to make Google Experience devices. Then if Motorola doesn't care about that, they can still sign up with Skyhook.

Google has to at some point realize that whatever their intentions were when they first released Android, they are now a company that has a consumer product. They have never been in a position where they have a product that needs to marketed, branded and sold. Their previous products are software based and free. I realize that Android itself is still software and free, the difference is that the end-users still have to pay for it.

I try to recommend Android to people, but it is difficult. I have owned 2 Android phones and had two wildly different experiences. Throw in low-end phones and phones with Bing and phones withe Sense or Touchwiz or PhilBlur or a dozen other little changes and I couldn't even describe what the Android experience is anymore.

My thoughts would be this. Android is open source so if someone wants to make changes to it, they can. Depending on the changes though, they should lose the right to call it Android. Android needs to be a consistent experience to further the brand. UI's need to be consistent and software needs to be consistent, period. Ubuntu doesn't let you release your own Ubuntu distros with your own customizations without express permission, why should Moto or Samsung, HTC or Verizon be able to do it with Android.

The "android" brand isn't the one that needs to be protected imo. But rather the "With Google Tag."

I think Google should clearly list the differences between what "with Google" means and what any android phone can be.

Then they should only certify "With Google" devices to use their name/logo on the phone, box, or any promotional material.

For example, a Droid2 could have in the ad "With Google's android operating system." while the fascinate could only be "With Samsungs TouchWiz android interface." or something.

Then market to consumers that "With Google" means that they'll develop with those devices in mind (maybe put a forced upgrade pledge into the certification process, aka, this phone must be developed for 2 years). So people know that With Google means the best android experience, and that any other "android phones" are more feature phones, or carrier models that just happen to have access to the same apps (like ATT advertised the backflip as having)

I don't see how a Moto phone is "With Google" anymore than an HTC phone is tho, and HTC's phones don't say that on the back, yet other phones w/deep UI customizations do. I'm assuming this is a different tag or denomination altogether than "Google Experience" phones, of which there are next to none now anyway since they're all running some sort of skin.

If the whole thing is an incentive/backgrounds program meant to provide further cooperation from Google or whatever then it doesn't need any advertising in the consumer mindspace anyway... The whole thing is pretty fuzzy if you ask me.

Actually, at least for the incredible and (I believe) eris, they did have the "With Google" tag. I'm pretty sure the Evo does as well. The Droidx and droid2 also have with Googe, as is the LG ally.

The Fascinate doesn't have the "with google" tag and neither does the Motorola Devour (Though I can't pinpoint why the devour doesn't have it, other than it sucks).

The skin has nothing to do with it. It's more about what services they use, and how closely they worked with Google in designing it.

I think they should use the "with google" tag to distinguish phones that will actually have updates pushed to them (maybe even minimum spec requirements) instead of just how it is used now.

The problem is that Android is the brand and that's what you protect. It's very dangerous to build a brand and let anyone do whatever they want with it because it all reflects on you. If you put some software requirements on the Android brand you can begin to exert some control and keep consistent quality.

Hardware manufacturers and carriers aren't really worried about the long-term future of Android. Android is what Google wants consumers to respond to "with Google" is too vague. I would flip it around and make Android the brand for the pure device vanilla devices and "with Google" the more open to interpretation versions. They could continue to share the market and apps and much of the experience, but only the vanilla devices would be called Android. This has the side benefit of disassociating Android from devices like the Devour, Backflip, Charm, Flipout and many other low-end devices that are currently fragmenting Android further.

As much as I dislike Apple, I can't fault them for protecting their brand. Brands are assets and you have keep a positive value in the mind of the consumer. Ask MS how good the Vista brand is. Whether they fixed the problems with it or not, the brand was dead.

That could work as well.

But at the same time, I'm not sure if "android" is the brand.

to the typical consumer, if you say "this is the fascinate, it runs android" they will almost always ask "But is it a droid?"

I think android is young enough that if Google makes something Now, they can build their brand from that.

The backflip, devour, etc weren't advertised or marketed as android phones./

You've got to remember that Android is global and Droid is only in the US. It's a problem though. It's actually a symptom of the same damned problem. Google has just let this crap go for two long. I sometimes wonder if they actually have a Marketing Director, and if they do whether he/she has any say in anything at all.

I'm in Canada and there are a lot of people here that really want to get interested in Android, but the available phones were the Motorola Milestone (Telus), HTC Desire (Telus), Xperia X10 (Rogers), the Samsung Vibrant (Bell) and the assortment of Heros, Magics and Dreams. The Vibrant is really the only top-tier Android phone available. I had a Milestone that I couldn't get support for and had to eventually write a 3 page letter to Motorola Corporate to get a refund. To get a decent Android experience I had to get a Nexus One. How consistent is the Android experience across those phones then?

If I was the Marketing Head at Google I would be terrified that a former iPhone or BB user would decide to try out Android and pick up a Charm and think that it is indicative of the software on all Android phones. There's nothing wrong or evil about setting out some guidelines for your partners to follow and having alternatives in places for when they don't.

I would love to see Google set some restrictions for what can be changed in the lower levels. Kind of like that Bing bullshit that is going on with the fascinate... thats just ridiculous the phone is a Google phone and theres no reason Bing should be the primary search function, JUST LIKE this company Air skewer or whatever should not have a hold on location based place searches.

Wonder how far this will go now?

"Location-based software developer, Aloqa was purchased by Motorola earlier today with the intent of adding location integration services into Motorola’s Blur interface. "

Doesnt that make this whole lawsuit just drop....HAHAHA

I have to strongly disagree that google "locking down" what can be changed on phones, low-end or high, is a good thing. Giving the customer choice is always better than giving Google (or any other single entity) the ability to choose for you. If Verizon puts Bing on their phones, and customers don't like it, Verizon will stop doing it. OTOH, if customers DO like it, then who is Google (or you) to say they shouldn't do it.

Same with Skyhook. Let customers decide whether they prefer google location services or Skyhook.

So much for "do no evil." (example 27)