Mobile

Google FTC probe targets Android — likely won’t amount to much

The Federal Trade Commission’s large-scale probe into Google is focusing on its mobile device platform, Android, in addition to the way the company uses information from rivals, the Wall Street Journal reports.

But the FTC will likely have a difficult time arguing that Android is killing competition in the mobile arena. If anything, Android is the one savior we have against Apple’s unstoppable domination in mobile.

The FTC is apparently investigating if Google coaxes smartphone manufacturers from using competitor services, sources tell the WSJ. But you don’t have to look too far to find examples to the contrary. Verizon, for example, was free to make Microsoft’s Bing the default search engine on some of its Android phones, and any Android user is free to do the same.

And unlike Apple’s notoriously closed off iOS, Google lets you replace and tweak core functionality in Android, like opting for an alternative software keyboard (Swype isn’t possible at all on the iPhone) or using a web browser like Firefox that sports a competing rendering engine to the default browser. Android even allows for competing app markets, like Amazon’s, from which Google doesn’t earn a dime. There’s clearly more competition possible on Android because of its open nature, despite the fact that it relies heavily on Google services.

As ZDNet’s Larry Dignan points out, there’s a lot of competition even among Android manufacturers, who have all taken different approaches to implementing the OS. The current battle for device market share between Samsung, Motorola, and HTC wouldn’t be possible at all without Android. Dignan also notes that Android just happened to land at the opportune time — had Microsoft or RIM stepped up their game in time, they could conceivably have slowed down Android’s success.

Google may have more to answer for when it comes to the other areas the FTC is investigating. The agency is apparently looking into the way Google uses reviews from competitors like Yelp on its own services. But the threat of the probe already seems to have changed Google’s behavior somewhat. The company has already removed bits of reviews from other sites on Google Places.


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