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Summary:

[qi:gigaom_icon_google-android] While users’ mobile experience has improved considerably in just the last 2-3 years, in many ways, the industry is still in its infancy. Despite numerous positive developments — Apple’s iPhone and App Store representing the two most prominent examples — in a few years, we […]

[qi:gigaom_icon_google-android] While users’ mobile experience has improved considerably in just the last 2-3 years, in many ways, the industry is still in its infancy. Despite numerous positive developments — Apple’s iPhone and App Store representing the two most prominent examples — in a few years, we will undoubtedly look back on 2009 and recognize that much of the innovation was yet to come.

Of course, a number of large, established companies — notably Apple, but also Intel, Qualcomm and Google, as well as numerous startups — are working feverishly to bring new mobile technologies to market. As reflected in initiatives such as OHA (Open Handset Alliance), Android and Chrome, Google believes that mobile is the next big thing and is intent on capitalizing on opportunities in mobile, much as it did in the early stages of the Internet.

Check out our latest GigaOM Pro report, “Google’s Mobile Strategy” (subscription required). We will also be discussing this topic as part of a free Research Roundtable Webinar on Aug. 27, 2009. Register here.

The scope of the company’s vision and the scale of its efforts uniquely position it to challenge the status quo, accelerate innovation and boost mobile access.

But isn’t the current rate of innovation sufficient? Three recent stories suggest not:

  • More and more consumers are dropping their landlines and becoming “CPO” (cell phone only) — in fact, roughly one in four households in the U.S. are now CPO. Dramatizing the significance of this trend, The Economist observed that “at the current rate, the last cord will be cut sometime in 2025.”
  • An April 2009 Pew Research study found that about one in five individuals surveyed had accessed the Internet on their mobile phone “the day before,” a number that had nearly doubled in less than a year and a half.
  • Despite these two developments, usability guru Jakob Nielsen, citing a study conducted by his firm with mobile users, concluded that “the mobile user experience is miserable” and likened it to the Internet circa 1994.

While significant changes are occurring, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, got it right when he observed two years ago that “consumers deserve more…innovation than they have in today’s wireless world.” Why is Google in a unique position to lead mobile innovation? The following suggest the capabilities and momentum that the company is building:

  • Android OS for mobile devices — After a slow start, Google’s Android is gaining favor among OEMs. Just last month, HTC announced that more than half of its devices will be built around the OS, and for good reason. Android eliminates the license cost and, compared with other operating systems, offers programming efficiencies that significantly reduce the cost of handsets.
  • Web-based mobile apps — While the merits of competing mobile app platforms are hotly debated, Google is committed to enabling and supporting web-based apps and cloud-based computing, leveraging its Gears platform, Chrome browser, and other assets it has developed.
  • Google Apps — Earlier this year, Google Maps passed Mapquest in online share of visits (all platforms, not just mobile). By enhancing map views and offering advertisers a variety of options — leading one industry observer to coin the term “mapvertising” — Google has demonstrated its ability to monetize yet another platform, one that is critical to mobile users. Early adopters are touting Google Voice as indispensable, albeit controversial.
  • Speech recognition — Though normally associated with text-based search queries, with Goog411 and speech-enabled web search Google is developing one of the largest, most robust speech platforms in the world. As a recent GigaOM Pro report (subscription required) argued, speech represents the next UI (user interface) for mobile.

Looking beyond these examples, only a handful of companies — including IBM, Amazon, Google, and a few others — have the capacity and ability to store and process in real-time massive quantities of data. Combined with its cloud computing platform, Google is well-positioned to develop innovative mobile services, from language instruction to analytics for location-based data, location-aware advertising, and more.

Time will tell, of course, whether the search giant will succeed in mobile on the scale suggested above. And to be sure, its strategy is not without critics. Some skeptics cast doubt on Google’s ability to bring new products and services to market. Others express concern that too much power is being concentrated in the hands of one company, which despite Google’s mantra of “Don’t be evil,” is a legitimate issue.

Despite these concerns, the company has demonstrated its ability to develop or acquire capabilities and monetize new business models. As Google and others introduce potentially disruptive innovations — such as Google Voice — opportunities will emerge. As a brand-new GigaOM Pro report (sub required) elaborates on, incumbents that are complacent and rely on conventional strategies are apt to miss out.

Phil Hendrix is the founder and director of the Institute for Mobile Markets Research and a member of the GigaOM Analyst Network. His complete discussion of this topic is available in the latest GigaOM Pro report, “Google’s Mobile Strategy” (subscription required). He will also be discussing this topic as part of a free Research Roundtable Webinar on Aug. 27, 2009. Register here.

  1. I find it a challenge to establish a direct relation between the article and it’s title. From the article, it appears that a lot of innovation is possible/needed in the mobile world ..and Google is well positioned to take a leading position in this. On the other hand, the word end-game suggests that the end is near (or within reach), for example, as in the case of wired phones. Regardless of whether Google will win the mobile race, I would argue that it is too early to declare that the end-game is “on” in the world of mobiles. I expect the game to be peaking now..or in the coming 1 year. The end-game would be sighted when there’s more “commodity” than “innovation” in the products and services. I would go one step further to argue that innovations being cooked today are not necessarily going to herald the end-game. Also, I would risk saying that Google (or the 3 other biggies mentioned) is not the only place where mobile innovation will happen. Innovation, as a rule, best happens outside the box. The biggies mentioned are all in the box, and have to work against their own established practices to successfully innovate. That’s not impossible, only difficult .. even for Google.

    Talking of Google, let’s not forget that today, there’s a long, winding, dotted path connecting their Android/Chrome ventures to a business model. No, I’m not hinting that Android/Chrome or such investments must immediately offer an ROI for Google, but this question will raise it’s head, continually. That’s what innovator’s dilemma is all about. Meanwhile, new kids-on-the-block will, unhindered by legacy, innovate and change the rules of the game. It’s happening in search already.

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    1. Yup,
      The articles says end game but talks the opposite.

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  2. its not alleviating misery its about getting eyeball to advt …i had an oppurtunity to discuss why google is focusing so much on mobile with a sr google executive ………..she said its quite simple 80 % of world poplulation resides in asia …and majority have cell phones and only minority have full broadband access ….so mass market is billion + mobile driven population

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    1. GOOG is making an attempt to purchase ON2 which owns a video codec which is crucial to the full expression of video over the internet and mobile devices. ON2 has already made significant inroads into China, and now GOOG is bursting in with a low-ball offer for the company, starving long-time investors out of future gains that were sure to come. GOOG’s motto of ‘do no evil’ is being tested with this deal, as ONT investors are smelling the evil in the deal. In Nov. 2008, GOOG entered into an agreement with management of ON2 which was not revealed to shareholders. Outraged shareholders, many of whom have thrown in with two class action suits against GOOG/ON2 management, note that the company had chosen for nine months to go without a CEO. It is their belief that GOOG was the acting CEO during that time, and was working to cripple the future of the stock to their ultimate benefit, a share price that seemed to be worthy of consideration but was in fact negotiated by the company with the consent of the officers of ON2.

      Jon

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  3. html5 + mobile browser advances = mobile evolution. period. kick the silly apps stores to the curb and just improve the entire interface and experience…

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    1. Agreeing with Cheese, it will be the smaller companies unhindered by legacy that change the game, and like search it’s happening already in mobile… it’s as Dave says, HTML5 plus browser innovation such as with WebKit technology. Companies like software dev firm Genuitec are doing this right now: http://genuitec.com/mobile

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  4. If you want to see what Jakob Nielsen’s 1994 world wide wed looked like, visit his current site. ;)
    http://www.useit.com/

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  5. [...] reports that one in four (!) US households are now cell phone only, and suggests directions for Google to [...]

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  6. [...] Google’s Endgame for Mobile — Alleviating Misery? [...]

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  7. Thanks Dave, definitely interesting stuff. Is there a link on the page, i can’t find it on useit.com

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