Android Creep: Gmail Chat Starts Showing Which Contacts Use Android Phones

green_robotGoogle is powerful. We all know this, and live with it. But that brings up some interesting concerns when they break into new businesses — will they use that power to give them an unfair advantage? With great power comes great responsibility, and all that. Today brings a totally innocuous example, but it’s still interesting.

A new feature in Gmail Labs allows you to change your contacts’ circular chat status icons in Android logo status icons. But the key is that these icons only change for users who are currently online on their Android phones.

Google’s official stance on this is as follows:

These icons can help you decide whether to tailor your conversation to the type of device that your chat buddy is using. For example, when you know the guy on the other end is using his Android phone, you may decide to send shorter, more concise chat messages.

Of course, they don’t tailor these icons for any other type of phone, just Android. It seems if Google really wants to help with mobile chat experiences, they could also have BlackBerry icons, Pre icons, etc. I would bring up iPhone icons, but Apple would probably sue Google if they tried to use that — I wish I were kidding.

This is a fun little feature for Android users, and as I said, totally innocuous. But I do wonder what else Google has up its sleeve for cross promotion as they continue to move into new businesses. Remember, the Droid was already advertised on Google’s homepage, something they rarely do. And remember too what got Microsoft in trouble in the 90s: Bundling products with its dominant operating system.

Again, before everyone gets their panties in a bunch, this example clearly isn’t a big deal. But think forward a bit as the web becomes more and more of the dominant platform rather than the operating system. And Google controls that domain. And product creep is happening.