Based on a batch of documents released in the Skyhook/Google lawsuit, it seems that Google’s Andy Rubin is not only the boss of Android, but the boss of just about everyone in the Android ecosystem. Freshly unsealed court docs reveal that Google is using Android’s “compatibility standards” to bully OEMs into choosing Google products for their smartphones.
Basically, anytime a manufacturer wants Android — or at least, Android with all of its best perks, like the Android Market or Google’s ultra slick Gmail client — on its smartphone, the device must adhere to Google’s compatibility standard. In an email dated August 6, 2010, Dan Morrill, a manager in the Android group, mentioned that it’s pretty obvious to phone manufacturers that “we are using compatibility as a club to make them do things we want.”
Obviously, that “club” could be seen as a method of stifling competition, but analysts have mapped out another potential motivation. Since Google’s Android OS must function across a variety of devices, and remain compatible with different software made by other companies, the company must protect its technology. “Google has the same problem today that Microsoft had 20 years ago, when Windows started to takeoff in the personal computer market,” said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “It needs to maintain the integrity of its technology, and control it.”
However, Skyhook Wireless is alleging that Google’s control over Android wasn’t to protect its operating system, but to put a foot on the neck of its competitor. In April of 2010, Motorola chose Skyhook’s location-based services over Google’s for a new line of Android phones. The decision was reversed in less than three months. The same story played out with Samsung, too.
Upon news of the Skyhook win with Motorola, an Android product manager Steve Lee offered up a reason for the deal in an email, writing “Skyhook […] is a hungry start up […] actively engaging and selling. Google hasn’t prioritized ‘selling’ it so it is easy to be outsold.” As word of the Skyhook/Motorola deal made its way around Google offices, the tech giant knew it needed to find a way to positively spin the loss of business.
“Are there any seeds we can plant with Motorola’s P.R. team to that effect?” wrote Google manager Andy Mathis. “Perhaps there is language we can plant with them for a blog post?” Within the same day, an Android communications manager Anthony House forwarded along pieces of Motorola’s response, which stated: “Motorola’s relationship with Skyhook demonstrates one of the many benefits of working with Google in an open partnership. We remain committed to the Android platform.”
About a month later, in May of 2010, Google switched up its strategy with concerns about technical compatibility. Skyhook’s location-based services work by combining location data from Wi-Fi hotspots and other sensors to locate the user. Google claimed that this system may bring about data “contamination.” Stephen McDonnell, a Motorola manager, responded in an email dated May 25, 2010, writing, “we feel the contamination concern you have is unfounded.”
Despite Motorola’s resistance, Google won out in the end. In an email dated June 2, 2010, a Motorola executive by the name of Tim Vangoethem wrote to Skyhook personnel, informing them of the latest word from Google on the matter. He relayed that Skyhook’s location service on the smartphone “renders the device no longer Android Compatible.”
My only question is: if throwing out “Android compatibility” was all it took, why didn’t you start with that strategy in the first place, Google?