In the mobile platform wars one of the defining weapons is the size and quality of the application arsenal. Lack of said artillery could be considered the death knoll for operating systems such as WebOS and Blackberry, but recent gains by Windows Phone (and now tablets and other Win 8 devices) have critics wondering if Microsoft will soon become a solid 3rd player.
That remains to be seen, but Google certainly isn’t itching to help them out. Microsoft’s VP & Deputy General Counsel, Dave Heiner, today made a blog post criticizing Google for not creating a Youtube app for Windows Phone. But Heiner’s comments go beyond plain criticism and into the legal realm by tossing around terms like FTC, Department of Justice, and antitrust.
You might think that Google would be on its best behavior given it’s under the bright lights of regulatory scrutiny on two continents, particularly as it seeks to assure antitrust enforcers in the U.S. and Europe that it can be trusted on the basis of non-binding assurances that it will not abuse its market position further.
However, as we enter 2013, that is not the case. Here’s just one example: We continue to be dogged by an issue we had hoped would be resolved by now: Google continues to prevent Microsoft from offering consumers a fully featured YouTube app for the Windows Phone.
Proprietary offerings have become a staple of the platform wars, with Apple long leveraging the success of services such as iTunes while Google played their own features close to the chest, for example Google Maps and Google Navigation. On the surface it seems like the obvious move: use your own products and services to your advantage so that your own platform is more powerful than that of the competitor.
Sounds like Business 101, right? One would think, but given the size and oligopolistic nature of the industry, antitrust issues may become a part of the picture. With an ever expanding set of services, Google has more recently become familiar with antitrust challenges, but Microsoft is an industry veteran: they settled an antitrust suit regarding internet browsers way back in 2001, when dial up modems were still prevalent.
From a business perspective, Google has often taken the approach of doing what’s best for the consumer, and assuming that the benefits will naturally follow. This is how they’ve treated the majority of their properties and it’s a strategy that has paid off handsomely. But have the platform wars altered that approach and could it come back to haunt Google in the years to come?
There’s no denying that Youtube users would benefit from having the service offered on as many platforms as possible. It’s available on Android, it’s available on iOS, and heck… Youtube is even available on the Nintendo Wii U. Some recent hiccups could be attributed to Nintendo’s own implementation of the Youtube API, but the Wii U does in fact have Youtube. Yet Windows Phone doesn’t…
If Google were treating Youtube as its own entity and a separately owned business, there’s no denying they would have launched a YouTube app for Windows Phone by now. They could argue that the platform doesn’t have enough users to justify the development, but I would call that a lame excuse. With an entity as big as Youtube, not to mention one that graciously accepted hundreds of millions of dollars in losses before turning a profit, you’d assume the investment in creating an app for Windows Phone would be easily justified.
Google might say the platform doesn’t have enough users to justify creating a Youtube app, but I think at least half their absence is due to the potential of Google-owned services like Youtube, GMail, Maps, Navigation, and others helping to make Windows Phone a better product that leads to the critical mass on Windows Phone which Google themselves are using as an excuse to not develop for the platform.
Personally, these are my two takeaways from this latest technology tiff.
Hey Microsoft: Nobody likes a crybaby
Personally, I think Dave Heiner’s public blog post on the matter seems like little more than whining. Nobody is going to feel bad for Microsoft, themselves one of the largest tech companies in the world. Microsoft dropped the ball in the mobile world years ago, now that they’re playing catchup, why should their competitors have to give them a helping hand? If there’s some gigantic void in your offering because your competitors aren’t playing nicely… do what Google and Apple have done numerous times: take your billions of dollars and build your own competing service.
Hey Google: Don’t forget where you came from
While withholding Youtube from Windows Phone is in the best interest of Android, it’s not in the best interest of Youtube, which shows how quickly Google’s priorities have changed. Doing what’s best for the consumer on a product by product basis has gotten pushed aside for doing what’s best for an entirely different company property. But with mobile shaping the future of technology, can you blame them? Not really, but I think it would be smart of Google to acknowledge this cultural shift and not stray too far from what made them successful before Android was born.
Hey Reader: What do you think?
What do you think about Google’s refusal to built a Youtube app for Windows Phone? Is it just smart business or unfair?