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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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RE: Simple...
By FaaR on 5/10/2011 4:03:57 PM , Rating: 2
Crapware on the phone and other stuff that can't be deleted is why I bought an iPhone and not some android headset last christmas. I had enough of shit like that with my previous Nokia and Sony Ericsson handsets that all came with pre-installed themes, backgrounds, screen savers, games or even videos that could not be deleted and just sat there uselessly and consumed flash storage space.

One of these phones had no less than three (!) buttons on the handset pre-programmed to launch the service provider's website (on MY dime of course, as data traffic was uber expensive back then), and as expected that "feature" could not be turned off. If I jammed the phone down my pants pocket carelessly, next time I pulled it up again there'd be flashing GIFs galore announcing new fabulous deals and offers blinking back at me. No more of that now!

Plus, Apple has traditionally supported each iPhone generation for 2 years, if not more, adding new features and functionality if the hardware handles it. Android support post-purchase is spotty and erratic to put it mildly, as is security updates and bug fixes. Apple wins here too, even though you have to use the monumental pile of crap that is iTunes to actually deliver the update to the phone...

Now, Apple's not perfect (witness: iTunes, quicktime and so on), and the iPhone's not perfect either; I detest the on-screen keyboard for example: it sucks, actually exiting an app requires too much fiddling, and iOS won't remember my home private wifi network; I have to type in the name and password every time I want to use it, and so on. But it's still preferable to android, IMO. Plus Apple's hardware just blows everything else out of the water, glass and steel beats flimsy plastic any day of the week.

Dunno windows phone 7, maybe that's a decent OS, I've never actually used it, but there's not much app support for it, and the graphics hardware microsoft supports is crap compared to PowerVR, and there's too many physical buttons on the front face of the phone. One's enough. :P


RE: Simple...
By Alexvrb on 5/11/2011 10:59:19 PM , Rating: 2
One is enough? Just like for mice, eh? Other than that, I agree with some of your sentiment regarding preinstalled crapware.


RE: Simple...
By Azethoth on 5/13/2011 1:04:57 AM , Rating: 2
"iOS won't remember my home private wifi network"

Mmm, it does remember mine. I have id broadcast turned off and WPA2 encryption on.

There is an issue in setup though where if you first connect to it when id is broadcast then change that to off it will not notice the change and fail to connect. You need to turn on plane mode for a bit and tell it to forget that network. Or you can change the name to accomplish the same thing.


"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)














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