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AT&T Strips Google’s Search Off Android; Will Verizon Or T-Mobile Follow?

AT&T (NYSE: T) is gearing up to launch the Motorola (NYSE: MOT) Backflip, its first Android device, on Sunday, and with it comes a little surprise: The Google-powered phone has been stripped of its flagship search engine, and instead comes loaded with Yahoo.

The removal of Google’s search by AT&T raises a few questions: Will all of AT&T’s Android devices default to Yahoo’s search engine? Will T-Mobile USA have to honor a similar agreement with Yahoo? (NSDQ: YHOO) And, will Verizon Wireless be forced to remove Google (NSDQ: GOOG) search in favor of its exclusive search provider, Microsoft’s Bing?

An AT&T spokesman confirmed that the carrier removed Google search from the phone, but added that other apps, like Gmail, Google Maps, Google Talk, Android Market and YouTube, remain. Engadget stumbled across this nugget of information when reviewing the device this week.

To be sure, the space has gotten complicated as carriers have signed contractual agreements with search providers, and then those search providers have rolled out mobile phones. One thing for certain is that if this continues to be the trend, Google’s business model may be at threat. After all, it gives the operating system for free with the hopes of making money from advertising on its various services, like search. Sprint (NYSE: S) is the only U.S. carrier that routinely integrates Google search into its devices.

AT&T did not say whether Google’s search would be stripped from upcoming Android devices, including the four additional ones planned for this year. Obviously, there’s some exceptions like the iPhone.

It’s unclear if T-Mobile will ever have to do the same. It’s been about two years since T-Mobile USA launched its first Google phone, and it has yet to replace Google’s search with Yahoo — despite having a similar exclusive partnership. A T-Mobile spokesman was noncommittal: “T-Mobile hasn’t announced any changes. Google continues to be our search partner on Android devices.” UPDATE: Yahoo issued the following statement:

9 Responses to “AT&T Strips Google’s Search Off Android; Will Verizon Or T-Mobile Follow?”

  1. Richard

    I think the reason these types of deals get people up in arms is because it’s another example of the removal of customer choice and an example of carriers dictating what consumer can and can’t have on a device. It’s one thing if AT&T makes Yahoo the default search engine, which consumers can change to another provider if they so choose. It’s quite another when it’s not possible to add your preferred search provider to the browser search window (like what VZW did with Bing on their BlackBerrys).

  2. I’ll be honest and say that removing google search from android sounds more like a play from Apple (producer of AT&T’s best selling phone) long before Microsoft. I have the G1 running 1.6 and the search bar is an invaluable resource for quick directions. I can check weather from it by typing “weather topeka, ks”, get local business listings just by typing them instead of doing a full search. Removing Google from the search bar is doing a huge diservice to the customer and I can only hope to see appropriate backlash from the customer base of AT&T.

  3. Agree, this is a non-issue for Google, but a sure way for ATT to annoy its new Android phone owners.

    I can understand the desire to “de-couple” the -Device and OS from the Application so that the perceived market power by Google is lower, but ask yourself – Do you really want to use Yahoo search? Do users?

    Is this a loyalty play for the users who are generating the 5% of mobile search traffic that doesn’t go to Google? Smells like Microsoft.

  4. superlinkx

    I think the reason the iPhone won’t be subject to it is because it is a locked system. Apple will ultimately decide, and AT&T can’t stop them.

  5. cp1234

    I have Motorola Droid but never even touch the Google browser that came with it. I downloaded Dolphin browser and have been using it since… because it is faster and has pinch and zoom capability.I don’t understand why people are making a big deal out of this.

  6. remember the days when it was hard for people to navigate the web and search providers paid for distribution on browsers? that model fell apart quickly as consumers found their preferred search engine and figured out how to navigate around the web on their own. same here.

    the great thing about android for consumers is it’s openness. removing google search is about contracts and in those contracts operators can only make commitments to partners for what’s pre-loaded on the devices they ship.

    android buyers are most likely google fans and google is still the preferred search engine of the masses. it will be simple and easy for people who prefer google to download the google search app and make it their default search.

    this is a non-issue for google….

  7. Tricia Duryee

    @Alex Gardner: This is not speculation. AT&T has integrated Yahoo search on to the Motorola BackFlip and has removed Google search. This has been confirmed by AT&T and Yahoo. AT&T and Yahoo have an exclusive mobile search agreement — I do not have an explanation for why it does not extend to the iPhone.

  8. Alex Gardner

    if att is striping google from android why wouldn’t they strip it from iPhone???? This makes no sense and is complete speculation. Android is OPEN SOURCE but they aren’t going to allow a major competetor to have to acess on Android. Android doesn’t even have support for Yahoo e-mail, you have to manually configure and after a week or two it doesn’t even work anymore. Who ever is the idiot who said that is completely wrong.