Small firm claims Google's Android "openness" is a facade

Let's say you're one of the largest players of a certain technology sector, be it computers or portable devices - specifically, your company authors software that goes on them. Let's also assume your product managed to build up an ecosystem around it, with different manufacturers taking your product and building their own designs with some reference specifications you provide them. Say a smaller competitor comes along and tries to compete with some bundled feature of your product. Would you be tempted to shut it down? If you've got enough money and wield enough influence for the manufacturers your product goes to - you sure as heck would, if you can get away with it, of course.

Sound familiar? That was what got Microsoft in trouble a decade ago when they successfully managed to destroy Netscape in the first round of the browser wars. But now we're hearing that Google is trying the same tactic as well for Android, except they're a bit more successful in hiding this fact. Google's perceived openness shines amongst consumers when they're presented with a choice of application stores to use, with little restriction on what can or cannot make it onto the device. The OS itself allows for a degree of customization.

There are a large number of manufacturers who develop devices around the Android operating system. But according to the New York Times (via DailyTech), smaller service providers angrily beg to differ in regards to Google's openness. Case in point: Skyhook.

Skyhook specializes in providing accurate location finding services by combining Wi-Fi hotspots, GPS, and cell phone towers. It's similar to what Google has now, but Skyhook had this unique combination first. Apple used Skyhook's services for iOS after dropping Google's in 2008, until last year when they began maintaining their own database for newer iOS devices.

Ironically, despite the closed nature of Apple's ecosystem, Apple still continues to honour their contract with Skyhook by paying for the use of their services on older iOS devices. Google, on the other hand, bullied Skyhook around. Google's ability to exercise strongarm tactics on their Android device partners resulted in manufacturers terminating their contracts with Skyhook, as their lawsuit against Google alleges.

The most glaring example was a deal Skyhook made with Motorola and Samsung last year in April to put Skyhook's technology on their devices. Google wasn't pleased, and threatened handset makers with compatibility compliance investigations, which may make them ineligible to produce or sell any Android devices, should they use Skyhook's services. Both companies reluctantly obliged and severed their contracts in July.

The emails published in the ongoing lawsuit showed Google managers using the "confusion" and "inferior" arguments to explain their reasoning for disallowing third party replacements to some of Android's core services. To prove their point, they compared location accuracy between Google's and Skyhook's services in the San Francisco Bay Area. The results of their tests showed a slight edge for Google's free service.

The emails also revealed how Google took a page out of Microsoft's antitrust troubles by being careful of what information they share with each other electronically. One email from a partner manager to a colleague regarding Skyhook read, "PLEASE DO NOT [forward details]! Thread-kill and talk to me off-line with any questions."

Image Credit: DigitalRendezvous

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