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Google's too powerful, and Android is about to pay a big price for it

Google Mountain View campus
Google Mountain View campus (Image credit: Android Central)

A company the size of Alphabet is always going to face the scrutiny of lawmakers in the U.S. and abroad. We've seen it for years — a country or group of countries haul Google into a court and ends up reaching some sort of "agreement" that mostly satisfies the original complaint and always puts money into state coffers and Google walks away whistling. With over 50 U.S. state and territories investigating Alphabet for anticompetitive behavior and compliance with antitrust laws, this time could be a little different. This is a U.S. probe that is determined to find some fault, whether real or imagined.

Yes, some of it is partisan, but mostly it's in response to complaints that Google is such a presence on the internet that other companies can't compete and new companies have no chance of success. That's different from wanting Google to reinforce that you don't have to use Gmail or Chrome on an Android phone (or Internet Explorer on Windows if you remember that one) and there are hundreds of other apps that can be used as the defaults. Android plays a big part in both, though.

In the U.S. Android holds about 50% of the smartphone market share.

The numbers vary a little from quarter to quarter, but in the U.S. about 52 of every 100 phones sold new use Android and 48 use iOS. Those numbers sound like a nice even split until you consider the fact that Google has a huge finger on the online scales by the way of services and advertisement. Everything Google does, including Android, is done to further these because that is how Google earns its billions each year. And because so much is done to make those services and advertisements so important to users almost every device, no matter who manufactures it or what software powers it, is a point of revenue for the company.

That's part of the anticompetitive behavior concerns state attorneys have, but the complaint also states that Google needs to provide information about U.S. market share and list the top 10 competitors for Android. Houston, we have a problem. There is but one real competitor for Android, and if Google tries to list things like Microsoft Windows or Sailfish OS, regulators will not be pleased. Windows does not compete with Android because one is mobile and the other is not, and software like Sailfish OS might be great and more people should try it, but the market share is going to be well under 1%.

From day one, Android has been a conduit towards Google's services.

This is going to matter because Android is nothing but a conduit towards Google services by design. I think Android is a great product and most everyone reading this is going to agree, but we all know why Google gives it away for free yet requires stringent adherence to specific rules if a company wants access to Google services: because that's what makes Android valuable and desirable. Ask yourself if you would use an Android device without any access to Google Play and you'll see what I mean here.

Android holds 50% of the U.S. market because Google has done so well integrating its services. That's by design. The other 50% of the U.S. market belongs to Apple, which also has a tightly controlled ecosystem of services including the App Store. It doesn't even allow other companies to use its software. the difference — and why Apple isn't under antitrust investigation — is because Apple doesn't have the equivalent of Ad Mob, or YouTube, or Gmail, or Search, or Nest, or Waze and you get the picture by now.

Breaking Android away from Google won't solve anything, but it still could happen.

I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of the investigators recommends that Alphabet be forced to spin off Google into its own company or even if Android should be an independent entity. That's not going to solve any of the other issues and probably wouldn't fix anything, but it's a token gesture that shows an official is looking out for constituents by breaking up "big tech" and that's all the rage in 2019. Or maybe Google simply walks away paying a pittance of a fine once again. We just have to wait and see.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

30 Comments
  • Sounds like a good idea to me! Would love to see other OS's enter the market. Android and iOS are getting a bit too samey methinks.
  • Some of it partisan?? Let's not minimize how our corrupt liar-in-chief has a vendetta against the "unfair fake news" offered by Google and the 'Amazon Washington Post ' and he's shown that he thinks the DOJ and other federal agencies are there to do his political bidding. Read his whiny Twitter feed. It's there all day, every day.
  • Let's also not forget Google's own incriminating internal communications. Or their actions against some of the biggest voices on their platforms (demonetization, search results suppression, banning). Let's also not forget that the current probe involves 48 states, DC, and Puerto Rico. I'd love to see the "partisan" breakdown of that. Of the two abstaining states, one is liberal, and the other conservative. The "bad orange man" narrative is rather hollow.
  • You make a very good point. Nice to see someone literate who examines facts to create a conclusion for once, rather than the biased blabber that some in this comment section have come-up with.
  • This is not that investigation. Any investigation of a private company for favoritism is stupid and any junior lawyer can wil that case. The letter from the investigation committee for this one is linked above.
  • Cry all you want about the President. I'm not a fan either. But the fact is that he's not the one that put these government over-reach, anti-trust practices in play and then refined them to target technology companies. You can thank your own Demirats; namely Janet Reno, for setting the precedent with Microsoft and other redistribution of wealth schemes. You can't have it both ways. Antitrust either applies to all or it cannot be applied to anyone. You don't get to pick and choose what to blame on the "other guys" after you sat by idly. Government harvesting of money from tech companies is now a reality we have to deal with due to legal precedence being set long ago.
  • Actually, it was Netscape, Oracle, Apple and others who invited regulators into the tech industry when they gang-wrestled Bill Gates and Microsoft in the 1990s. Maybe it was going to happen eventually, but those are the guys who made the tech industry a target for regulatory fun and profit.
  • Someone is suffering from TDS. Poor baby.
  • Right in the article is says Android has a 50% market share. How can you claim something is a monopoly and deserves anti-trust action when it only has a 50% share? Maybe you can try to make an argument for tying between monopolies and monopoly extension, but then you'd have to show that Gmail, Next, YouTube, Search, etc are monopolies. I just don't see it, Google is certainly large but it is not a monopoly. Contrast this with MIcrosoft. For about ten years it was impossible to by a computer without also being forced to buy Microsoft Windows. This monopoly was so severe that if you declined to agree to the EULA you had to go to small claims court to force them to pay you a refund for software you legally refused to use. Dell even had the audacity to charge you a fee to REMOVE Windows. Now that's a monopoly.
  • It's not the market penetration of Android - although that's significant. It's that Android feeds the market penetration of GMail, YouTube.... You have to have a GMail account to use Android... Although you need an AppleID to use IOS, it's not tied to services like Android/GMail is. It doesn't even have to reflect an Apple "identity": it can be your GMail, Outlook, Yahoo, ISP email address for the ID. In the *dated* Microsoft example, imagine if you were forced to use a Hotmail account to use Windows. That's the relevant example.
  • Actually, you don't need a GMail account to use Android; you need a Google account, which can be an Outlook, Yahoo, ISP email, etc. account.
  • The other thing I've read legal folks say is that one major flaw in the antitrust argument is that Google (and Facebook as well) don't charge consumers for the products in question. The products it does charge for have plenty of competition. Spotify vs GPM. YouTube TV vs Hulu and Sling. Paid Drive storage vs a myriad of other. Even on hardware. Google Wifi hardly dominates mesh routers. Pixels don't come close to the ubiquity of iPhones. The only possible hardware dominance might be Home products, but even there I think Amazon has more Echoes in the wild. It seems when consumers have to pay for something Google/Alphabet offers, they often go with a competitor. If antitrust laws are ultimately designed to protect consumers by assuring we have choices when we shop for goods and services, maybe the laws need to go beyond protecting just our wallets. So when can I expect that Comcast antitrust lawsuit? Or is Pai to busy making sure the telcos are happy for that?
  • They should just limit the income a company can have... There's no other fair solution
  • If they do move to break up Google then AT&T, Disney, and Charter/NBC need to be broken up also. They aren't the same type of monopoly but a vertical integration system that still allows them to dictate pricing and manipulate the market.
  • And Apple as they seem to have a monopoly on phones and computers running Apple software.
  • Except Apple's "monopoly" applies to less than 20% of phones worldwide and les than 10% of computers worldwide :P
  • If this ends up bringing back Windows phone I'm all for it! ;-) (but not really ;-)
  • As a developer you should never exploit your customers.
    To me that just doesn't make good business sense.
    When you have a company that makes it's income off of analytics, and claims anonymity, just because it doesn't have your name attached to it doesn't really mean anonymity.
    Those analytics - could possibly - include your age, gender, income bracket, race, religion, demographic area, country, province, job profession, social habits, frequent eateries, frequent hotels, travel / vacation spots, countries being visited etc. - all professional and social profiling.
    If location tracking was on all the time, one could track basically all of the above mentioned.
    That is valuable information.
    A wealth of information to target advertising etc.
    Harmful? Possibly.
    Beneficial? Possibly.
    Should an individual have the right to choose to participate or block all of that? Yes.
    That information can also be used for propaganda - now we have a different scenario... Perception Management.... Good and bad - and it works - very well.
    Should an operating system allow this?
    Should an operating system block this?
    Analytics can also be embedded into an application by the developer... So...?
    Analytics I believe was initially developed to help developers troubleshoot operating system and application issues some years ago.
    Since then I - believe - it has gone to a whole new level - and profiling is the name of the game.
    Follow the money.
  • If this ends up in the breakup of Android and Google leaving it or the band's of the likes of Samsung and Huawei, I'll go back to iPhone and I really don't want to do that, Android is nothing without Google.
  • So what your saying is, now BlackBerry can go to Google and ask for a bunch of money to dump back into its own proprietary OS ? Allow blackberry to access there android runtime and so on.nokia can reboot Symbian ? Windows phone ? Palm OS? Competition as little as it would be would exist and the more players in the space the better for Google. They aren't losing much in regards to market penetration but the random niche groups can have there desired platform with Google flipping the bill. Small in the grand scheme of things
  • By the way I'm joking . But wouldn't it be awesome. If by some means Google just had to pay a bunch of competitors to stay around.
  • Trying to take on Google is like hitting your head against a concrete wall... repeatedly...maybe a sledgehammer might help? Anyways, as a consumer I wish there would have been at least a third, if not fourth choice to IOS and Android. It would have been awesome if BB 10 and Windows 10 had succeeded. Choice is never a bad thing. Who knows what they might have done even for handsets... Alas due to reasons, both internal and external, some of which we may know and others we may not, it wasn't to be as both IOS and Android murdered their rivals and anykind of competition. Honestly, I don't know what the solution should be. I wish I had answers...but I don't...not really. Maybe some regulations aimed at encouraging and even ensuring more competition? Limiting the reach or companies like Apple and Google via government intervention. None of those sound particularly promising or appetizing for that matter. At this point as I see it, only Microsoft could be a viable third competitor in so far as mobile. Problem is they've already took a shot at that and failed in a pretty spectacular fashion. Personally I would not be opposed to a renewed effort... however I doubt another attempt on their part at a Windows Mobile revival. Huawei could conceivably develop their own OS and ecosystem, but it would more than likely be reserved for the internal Chinese market... maybe other parts of the Asian market, but no more...
  • I tried mobile phone with windows, all i can say, if these times i could get for example galaxy s10 driven by windows 10 and use it just like pc (yes, i meand same soft exe files like on pc) i then wouldnt have secont thoughts, i would buy it. Thats why microsoft failed, win mobile simply doenst work
  • Still Windows 10 was not a bad OS. Neither was BlackBerry 10. Just think, when BlackBerry 10 launched in 2013 as a gestures based OS, everybody was laughing. But look at now...both IOS and Android are using gestures as a primary feature...
  • As I said many times in comments no other company or consumers bothered then bec Apple had a physical home button and Google wanted to stay on par with them with their 3 button navigation which included a "home button". But, when Apple replaced their home button functionality with these navigation gestures that long existed since Palm OS and after on BB10 then everyone noticed especially Android phone manufacturers adding them into their skins. And of course can't forget Google added them soon after in some form but polished them up in Q to be identical to iOS's.
  • Why google is so powerful? I remember years ago i wanted to use like search.com, yahoo.com and other websites, BUT only google (when appeared on internet) provided most correct search results and made a life easier and simplier for most people and even companies. "Other companies have no chance to success..." damn all, google made its way up so all others can as well. And another thing, no one is forced to use youtube, gmail, playstore, there are other providers, i have plenty apps from different providers. What is android? -it's linux based os and linux was released by a guy just for free, so no one owns it, if others want to succeed then make something amazing that actualy works.
  • How about going after the ISP companies sell your data to the highest bidder
  • Antitrust, "relating to legislation preventing or controlling trusts or other monopolies, with the intention of promoting competition in business."
    So... Android not Google is controlling the mobile market so there can't be compatition?!?! They let apple iOS users install the same Google applications Android users can. Gmail is available on both. And as far as Android fragmentation it's in both Google and the phone manufacturing companies best interests to protect there users by offering them the best security updates and features by conforming to the outline provided by Google to use Google play services. There are lots of other phone manufacturers outside the USA that don't use Google services and you can still go to gmail.com and check your email just like any other mobile device. The reason they don't get access to Google services like playstore and Google pay is becuase the hardware is weak and cheap. It can't perform full disk encryption or other things required to keep the device secure. As for US customers they want the comfort of security, they are willing to pay for premium hardware and specs so why not get the most out of the device. If you don't want to fully integrated Google service on your shiny new Samsung you can generally install another os that doesn't have Google services integrated, and if Joe politician doesn't understand how maybe it's time they stop taking tax payers money hand over fit to sit in nice cozy offices bickering about petty stuff and read up on how to make there own OS. Android is free Linux based and fully documented. Anyone on Earth can build there own OS and that doesn't sound like antitrust to me. Let's point our little pea brains at real antitrust issues. Why can't I install FaceTime on my Windows phone. I want Internet explorer on my iPad. What a bunch of hypocritical bull dung.
  • Market share in the US maybe only 50%, but worldwide it's over 80%.
    Google is an American company, operating out of the US. So even if their actions within the US might not represent monopolistic behaviour, their actions outside do. And much like Google's forbidden to provide services to Huawei even in Europe, even though American laws are worthless here, they also need to answer for their practices outside the US.
    Specially when those practices are hurting OTHER American companies. I would be glad to see Android split up from Google. Because: "Ask yourself if you would use an Android device without any access to Google Play and you'll see what I mean here." Yes. I would. As long as I could get apps through another store (Samsung Store, Amazon Store, Aptoide, etc), I wouldn't care if the phone didn't have any Google services. I don't use them anyway, despite Google's attempts to shove them down my throat.
    And those attempts are exactly why probes like this are good. In the long terms, it's the consumers that benefit. Without these probes, Google wouldn't even be around anymore. Because it was one of these probes that allowed Chrome into people's PCs.
  • Do we really want more operating systems? It's problematic enough in the desktop world with just Windows and MacOS.