Google: From parasite to predator, but can symbiosis exist with Microsoft?

Tensions are at an all-time high between Google and Microsoft, and an end isn't in sight

Windows Phone and Windows 8 are being steadfastly ignored by Google as it reinforces its own ecosystem. Microsoft scroogles Google, picking up Android royalties while it demands a truce to work on a YouTube app. Both are engaged in a petty proxy war that is bad for their customers and edges them closer to an all-out death match. What went wrong and will it be Google Now or Google Never on those beautiful big live tiles? 

Windows and Google: The early years

In the early years, Google only existed as search in an internet browser of which it had no control. It wasn’t long before their goals and aspirations grew for more footing on the platform they inhabited. Before they built their own web browser came an assortment of desktop utilities and apps primarily designed to facilitate and promote the use of Google services on the desktop. Successful or not, they had begun to introduce Windows users to their services away from the search and browser-only paradigm.

This early relationship worked well to enhance Google’s standing and begin cultivating a user base from the Windows platform. With the advent of services like Gmail, they gave users more reasons to sign up for an account and begin building their alternative ecosystem. The release of Chrome was perhaps the single biggest statement of their intent to finally break free of their reliance on others and garner more control over their delivery system. Install Google Chrome now and the first thing you’ll be presented with is the sign in page, the message is clear: use the account to unlock so much more.

Just some of Google web services, most unavailable to Windows 8 or Windows Phone..

Parasite becomes predator

With a growing user base and swelling bank balance Google continued to execute on its plan for independence. The key to this was to create its own operating systems, which eventually led to Chromebook laptops and the all-conquering Android mobile OS. As well as that we see Google go toe to toe with Microsoft in almost every product category as well as dream up some radical new computing paradigms

Eric Schmidt has long fought with Microsoft and it’s of no surprise that the very DNA of Google has become entrenched around the goal of disrupting Microsoft’s traditional markets. As well as offering their competing services and devices, Google has been careful not to fuel any new mobile or OS initiatives Microsoft has delivered recently. I am of course talking about Windows Phone and Windows 8 apps; both new operating systems are served only by a rudimentary Google Search app.

Meanwhile Google have built a stunning set of apps for Apple’s iOS devices, which in some cases are better than their Android equivalents. Recent developments now see Google apps on iOS launching other Google apps, thereby breaking the need to see what other apps are available via the home screen. Google of course is stalking Apples mobile ecosystem just as it did with Microsoft’s desktop.

Google are creating fewer reasons to choose Microsoft laptops and smartphones over their own

By holding back on development for Windows Phone and Windows 8 apps, Google are creating fewer reasons to choose Microsoft laptops and smartphones over their own. With a growing number of Google account holders, some will find there is simply nothing of interest and look elsewhere. This is the power of the ecosystem and Google is using it to its advantage. That lock in is compounded when you add in folks who were previously using Android devices who are thinking of trying Windows Phone, it would prove a hard move indeed.

To somewhat confuse the situation with apps, Google, as mentioned, does make a search app for both Windows 8 and Windows Phone. The Windows 8 app is surprisingly nice and has all the potential to become a gateway for all of Google’s services, whilst showing no appreciable updates to do that since launch. There is also a YouTube app on the Xbox 360 which has to be one of the most expensive and restrictive of Microsoft’s products to develop for. Why have an app on the Xbox when there are far more potential users available on Windows Phone and Windows 8 devices? This is likely a case of Google feeling no threat from Microsoft since they don’t have a home entertainment system beachhead just yet.

Tensions most visible in mobile

Microsoft provoked a cease and desist from Google by creating a YouTube app for Windows Phone 8. The app actively broke Google's terms of service by not showing ads and allowing downloadable content. A bold move by Redmond to force the issue of active denial of YouTube API’s after years of asking. The result is that the two companies have issued a statement that they will both work together to create an official app.

A co-developed YouTube app sounds good on paper but the experience for Windows Phone users will be far from pleasant. By that I mean it will most certainly be not as good as the current app which is excellent. Google are obviously going to do the minimum needed to ensure that ads and usage rights are put in place.

Microsoft’s stance on Android is that it’s built from stolen intellectual property that is subsequently dumped into the market for free

For all the indignation from Microsoft and its supporters, the question has to be asked as to why Google should devote resources to Windows Phone. Microsoft has gone after every maker of Android handsets with back door deals to secure revenue from each device sold with Google’s OS running on it. Microsoft is making a healthy profit on the back of Google’s mobile OS, and rightly or wrongly this must be a bitter pill for Google to swallow.

Microsoft’s stance on Android is that it’s simply built from stolen intellectual property that is subsequently dumped into the market for free. This has created a massive advantage for Google as they build their Android Empire while making Microsoft’s Windows Phone look expensive to adopt.

Will we see yet more moves from Google to change their syncing technologies to prevent their customers from adopting other platforms? Their recent goal shifting with Exchange support ran very close to leaving their own customer high and dry if they were using Windows Phone.

Can we ever expect a good relationship to exist between the two companies while one floods the market with an OS built on the intellectual property of the other? Can we expect some healing to happen over a YouTube app while one steps towards its next billion dollar business by collecting Android royalties? If there is one area where we see these two heading for each other’s throats it’s in mobile.

Google Now or Google Never on Windows Phone?

Can Microsoft compete with Google in consumer cloud services?

A while back I would have argued that Windows 8 and Windows Phone could very much do without Google's apps and services. Being able to do that and not feel like a 2nd class web citizen grows harder every time Google improve their web offerings. Unlike Microsoft, they have a long standing momentum built on constant updates and tweaks. 

We have seen some great improvements to Microsoft’s web offerings with Bing Maps, Search and more recently the successful update to its highly popular email platform. Unfortunately progress is slow going and recent updates to Bing to roll in social aspects have not left the confines of the US.

This is an area where Google’s investment in cloud infrastructure combined with vast numbers of users will prove a difficult mountain for Microsoft to climb. Traditional search results are still generally better than with Bing mostly due to the sheer weight of searches performed on Google compared to Bing. The perceived quality and usefulness of search from Google as opposed to Bing also has much to do with Google storing your previous query. Bing does not collect so much information and hence even if you sign in the results don’t auto populate with previous hints. Net effect is a greater sense of usefulness. The problem for Bing is that Google just changed the game with search in a fundamental way; they rolled out something called Google Now. Where Bing coined the term "decision engine" for advertising Google have not only acted on that but delivered on that very premise. 

With Google Now we see the first tentative steps towards information delivered to us as we need it without needing to ask. It's early days but it’s a service that could convince consumers that being deprived of Google on their phones and computing devices just isn't an option. Over a year ago I heard someone from Bing talking about such a service but there seems little sign of it. Should we worry that Microsoft is now only using its Bing division to build weather and news apps for Windows 8, rather than concentrating on building up their search efforts? When Google pulled the rug from out under Google Reader Microsoft should have rolled out a Bing service to bring users to their platform.

Potential for Google Now on Xbox One, or just a Microsoft road block?

Can Google afford to ignore Microsoft’s products?

With regard to Windows Phone, they can almost certainly keep their air from fuelling that fire for as long as they like. Android is now the de facto mobile OS with over 70% of the market to itself, it’s not even close and Windows Phone is registering such tiny numbers it's unlikely that will change anytime soon. The situation with Windows 8 remains less clear, these machines are selling in high volume numbers so surely Google should develop apps for the Windows Store? The problem here is that Google already has apps for Windows, lots of apps; just they are all designed for the desktop. The problem for Microsoft is that the desktop isn't going away soon and Windows users are not keen on switching to the new Windows 8 apps and tiles.

Users will greatly benefit from having Google’s offerings on their devices

Judging by the Google search app for Windows 8 they most certainly won’t be able to ignore it quite as much as Windows Phone. They will however be able to hold back for as long as possible to give the impression the platform is still not worth investing in. A look at the Windows Store shows an alarming lack of official apps from major players, and as each one holds out, the others will hesitate further. There is a chance that smaller and cheaper Windows 8 devices combined with an updated operating system will inject some fire into sales and adoption, but for now Google can wait and see.

The sad thing about this situation is that Windows users will greatly benefit from having Google’s offerings on their devices. When it comes to a service like Google Now, Microsoft’s Tile (shall we call them cards?) based user interface is literally made for this to work beautifully. The large tiles on Windows Phone showing relevant Google Now cards would be far better than having to launch an app as you do with Android and iOS. In fact Microsoft’s new tile-based user interface would work just as well with Google Now on tablets, desktops and a television. The Xbox One is just around the corner which opens up the possibility of natural language search, hangouts and of course perhaps using those huge live tiles for that Google Now content? 

The potential boon for Google to get speech and search data from those using the home entertainment system in the living room is vast; will they be ignoring that too?

Microsoft's cloud services: are they enough?

Can Microsoft afford to alienate Google further?

If recent events have shown us anything it’s that these two have been on bad terms for a long long time. Microsoft has launched a few high profile anti-Google campaigns and we have to wonder just how uncooperative they have been with the search giant over these last years.

If this is a case of Microsoft doing all they can to stop Google from penetrating their ecosystem further then it needs to stop. I see no reason why the search button on Windows Phone shouldn't let me jump right into Google rather than Bing for instance. How much access to the Xbox One will Microsoft give Google should they request it?

Microsoft is in the middle of a huge platform shift and they have shown they haven’t been able to roll out key existing technologies to their own devices let alone fully compete with Google. Currently there is no integrated voice interaction throughout Windows 8 machines. Even though TellMe technology exists on their phone and Xbox 360 it’s missing in action on their best-selling operating system. While all this is going on can we really expect them to pull a Google Now service out of its hat?

Until Microsoft can offer the same set of rich cloud services as Google then I’d argue they should be doing all they can to patch things up instead of antagonizing them with Android patent deals and apps that break terms of service. Failing that then they need to pull their socks up and improve their offerings across the board in leaps and bounds or risk having a set of services that simply fail to ignite any interest in consumers. Google for all the web services still has to still rely on Windows to deliver them. By holding back on apps for Windows 8 and Windows Phone they have set on a path which will increasingly get harder to reverse. Both companies are fully invested in delivering cloud services, it's their job now to make them as easy to access and as cross platform as possible, while they bicker it's going to be the consumer who looses out. 

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