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. (AAPL) iOS 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
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
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
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