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Emails reveal manager admitting that his firm uses Android compatibility "as a club" against competitors

Google Inc.'s (GOOG) day in court with Skyhook, Inc. took a decidedly ugly turn this week when the court published internal emails from Google's ranks.

In one juicy snippet Android Open-Source & Compatibility Program Manager Dan Morrill writes, "[W]e are using compatibility as a club to make them [Android hardware partners] do things we want."

I.  Google -- Not So Open

If several angry small service providers are to believed, Android is as closed as the legendary Apple, Inc. (AAPLiOS closed garden or worse.  The disgruntled firms claim that Google wields compatibility as a sword to crush rivals while maintaining a public image that it's "open".

In Skyhook's case the company signed a deal in April with Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (005930) and Motorola Mobility Solutions, Inc. (MMI) to put its location-aware services on their devices.  The company made a unique product that offered advanced location tracking employing a mix of GPS, cell towers, and Wi-Fi signals to pinpoint a user's exact location.  The deal would have been a blockbuster opportunity for the small, enterprising company.

That's when Google stepped in.

Recalls CEO Ted Morgan, "After we announced our deal with Motorola, Google went crazy."

Google, upset about the threat to its own service, reportedly threatened its hardware partners by opening investigations into their compatibility compliance, which could lead to them being unable to make and sell new or existing Android handsets.  Both companies meekly bowed to Google's threats, severing their contracts with Skyhook in July.

II. Smacked With a Lawsuit

Outraged, Skyhook filed suit in Massachusetts Superior Court.

But there's more to the story.  The emails reveal that much like Apple, Google's fundamental argument for disallowing third party competitors was that they would offer inferior or confusing alternatives to customers.

Steve Lee, an Android product manager, ordered tests conducted which showed Google's own free service worked better than Skyhook's in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Mr. Lee wrote an email to fellow managers warning that letting Skyhook continue to operate endangered Google's own operations.

He said that even though he believed evidence showed Google's own service to be superior, that the Motorola and Samsung contracts might convince other phone makers otherwise.  They might ditch Google's free service for Skyhook.  He writes, "That would be awful for Google because it will cut off our ability to continue collecting data to maintain and improve our location database."

III. Mountain View Giant Covers Its Tracks Carefully

Clearly Google's management grew concerned that their email conversations might get pulled into court as their efforts to kill Skyhook stepped up.  Patrick Brady, a partner manager at Google, replied to a colleague offering to send him some details on Skyhook, stating, "PLEASE DO NOT! Thread-kill and talk to me off-line with any questions."

Due to Google's apparent efforts to cover its tracks -- a lesson perhaps learned by the Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) blockbuster federal court case of a decade prior -- there's less concrete proof that Google employees were willfully abusing their dominant position.

But in crushing Skyhook, this appears to be exactly what happened -- regardless of their intentions.

Perhaps the greatest irony in the case is that Apple, often demonized as a closed, totalitarian device maker, actually treated Skyhook with greater respect.  While Apple reportedly was not fond of Skyhook's technology popping up on its devices in first party form, it appreciated the potential of the technology and licensed in for use in the iPhone and iPad.  Apple appears to be Skyhook's primary source of revenue, after Google crushed the pending Android deals. 

If Skyhook's sob story is to be believed, one has to wonder how much farther from reality Google's public image of openness could be.  The company is accused of abusing its dominant position to crush small foes and maintain a closed garden.  And that's not to mention the fact that the latest build of its "open source" operating system is closed source.  What is happening to Google?

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By Pirks on 5/9/2011 5:12:08 PM , Rating: -1
I just tried RIM Playbook at work, took it from a buddy of mine for a spin, found it nice and much better build quality than his other ViewSonic Android tablet, form factor is perfect, it's pretty light, screen is Apple-like top notch very bright and very contrasty IPS, multitasking is Win7-like where you see video or game playing in a thumbnail while you cycle through tasks with those nice infamous RIM invented "off-the-bezel" gestures, gee I liked it a lot! First tablet I've seen that easily matches and sometimes even bests iPad build quality wise. This soft leather like material with metallic (not plastic) RIM Blackberry logo on it ooohh looks classy, all matte black, no silver sh1t like Apple does (I hate silver). Man Playbook seems like indeed a high class business/executive device, no corners were cut there.

The interface however is not as butter smooth as Apple's, they need some work there to improve, but most of the time it's very very good speed wise and quite smooth too.

anyway my feeling is that Google lost this one on me, I'll be watching whatever RIM is going to bring next, since I use Gmail web interface for my email Playbook would be a perfect fit to me. Sadly, no SD slot in there :( Oh well, this is what you pay for high class and ooh sweety style of it. Just like Apple.

Don't think budget oriented Android tablet junk can get close to it. May be next iteration...

didn't try Xoom tho, if anyone compared Xoom to Playbook, please post here, thx

By Commodus on 5/9/2011 6:06:23 PM , Rating: 1
You've gotta try an Android 3.0 device first, and not just the Xoom. ASUS Eee Pad Transformer is what people point to right now... if you can find it (supply problems, not demand).

My issue with current Android 3.0 tablets, though, is that the OS seems to alternate between speedy and pokey at will, and there's very few apps optimized -- just a few dozen where Apple has 65,000-plus. Most Android 3.0 tablets also suck, too. Acer's Iconia Tab has poor quality overall, the Xoom is heavy and has a poor display, and the Eee Pad Transformer... well, production might catch up in June. Maybe.

Say what you will, but the iPad 2 is cleaning up right now because it's the best tablet out there. PlayBook is a good idea, but it's half-finished and, like Android, has few good apps.

By Pirks on 5/9/2011 6:28:06 PM , Rating: 1
Well maybe its software side is half finished but the build quality is super top notch and overall the OS is super great architecture wise(microkernel Unix here I come baby!) so I liked it the most, besides iPad 2 which is more mature and has more apps but NOT of higher quality/materials, this is very important to me.

Android => shoddy cheapo build quality + crap Linux based monolithic kernel, boo! So lame :)


By darkhawk1980 on 5/10/2011 7:06:18 AM , Rating: 2
The only thing that RIM did right with the playbook was deciding to use the OMAP4 over the crappy Tegra 2. Gimme a Playbook with Honeycomb on it and I would have bought one. Blackberry OS is about as useful as a 1 button mouse.

And yes, I have played with one. I went back to my phone with a smaller screen, it was more useable for me.

By Pirks on 5/10/2011 7:18:09 AM , Rating: 1
Stop looking like an idiot, Playbook uses QNX, not the Blackberry OS. This, and the build quality, are the two pillars of its awesomeness. Android == shoddy cheapo data miner/ad pusher for Linux using lamers from your neighbor "Do Some Evil" Google monsta :P hehehe

Google dumbos couldn't even buy QNX for their mobile OS like RIM did, what a bunch of hobos. And this is with all the money they have! No way, I'm not using loser's OS on my future mobile phone :P

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