The New Mobile Landscape: Google Quits Apple Board

Written by Evan Schuman
August 4th, 2009

When Apple announced Monday (Aug. 3) that Google CEO Eric Schmidt was resigning from Apple’s board, it was done under the cover of a few business issues (Android and Chrome in particular). But it was truly mobile—and the radically different M-commerce environment both companies today find themselves in—that’s behind this.

Apple and Google hadn’t been seeing exactly eye-to-eye for many months, but what pushed this out in the public was the FCC confirmation on July 31 that it was investigating. Specifically, the FCC is probing “why Apple rejected the Google voice application for the iPhone and removed related ‘third- party applications’ from its store. The letter also seeks information on how AT&T was consulted in the decision, if at all,” according to the Dow Jones newswire.

The bigger picture here, though, is that Mobile Commerce is the next “big thing” in retail and Apple and Google are well-positioned to become two very key—if not the key—players. And they won’t be playing on the same side.

There are many technical obstacles to M-Commerce, which explains why almost none of the major chains are doing it. We’re talking about true M-Commerce here, not using cellphones as research devices or text message devices. The number of sites that are even trying to allow customers to fully purchase an item from their cellphone is tiny.

But the biggest single obstacle is the lack of standardization, whether it’s how an M-commerce URL looks or the GUI rules or where an E-Commerce site declares its mobile version. Standardization has always been a dance, with the companies that are behind pushing aggressively for a standard for the common good, leaving the company with the most sophisticated technology (the one that would have to be dumbed-down to be compliant with the common denominator standard) resisting as hard as it can.

That standards resistor is Apple, whose iPhone has become the de facto standard for what mobile devices should be. (All except that AT&T lock-in, but that’s another column.) After having invested and creatively crafted a smartphone that is truly designed to handle M-Commerce, it’s going to dig its heels in about standardization.

Meanwhile, back in Mountain View, Google’s approach is all about standardization. Beyond that, it wants standardization to be all about the Internet, while it hopes to lock in search and content. In a sense, this is about the Open Google folk in Mountain View versus the Proprietary Apple folk in Cupertino. For two companies that are only a few miles apart geographically, they’re lightyears apart philosophically.


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