FTC inquiry on Google for anticompetitive business practices

Can you have a monopoly if the stuff you make is free?

2 Anonymous (information about a current investigation is confidential) sources have disclosed to Forbes that the FTC wants to make spoons with the Goog over allegations that Android is being used as a mule-ware for Google proprietary applications like Search, Maps, Gmail, Drive, Photos, OK Google, Music, Books,
In other words, even though Android is free and Google doesn’t make money from licensing because Android is ‘open’ or ‘clopen’ perhaps, the stipulations of getting your handset qualified for PlayStore are arbitrary. But what we all know is…every Android hardware OEM is forced to carry all of the proprietary Google apps and if you refuse…

There it is. There you have it folks: Someone or some group doesn’t think it is fair for Android to be ‘mule-ware’ for all of the Google apps, which is a stipulation (one of many…allegedly) for PlayStore. The most likely suspect would be a hardware OEM. One who is feeling the economic impact of deploying suck on their hardware platform as a solution for their customer…but there is no money in it. So the updates get prioritized by installed base. Just like that! The few people who got suckered into buying a cheap android handset 8 months ago, can now see the lifecycle sunset of his fairly new handset.

Now to combat this OEM’s need to make money from the handset somehow, since there isn’t any profit in selling Android handsets. So they looked to embedding applications on the firmware for the users to use so they could be served ads. But that leads to multiple instances of applications on the springboard…confusing Android users.

So it has come to this. The possibility of the Android ecosystem collapsing because not enough people are making enough money. And now the FTC is going to investigate how Android is distributed. Here is what they will see:

I wrote a little about this last year:
The effort required for a forked Android distribution to be a successful and thriving strategy for a business is nothing to be dismissive of. Just ask Amazon. It is difficult. There is much that needs to be reconstituted to get it to the point of features and functionalities it has on the devices you see for sale, like the ones of the Google PlayStore. Some of you might be surprised when you learn that it is designed to be that way. One might even say that Android forks are designed to be hobbled like crippleware, so they fail. Does Google ‘change’ android if a branched fork scenario occurs? That depends on what you believe ‘Android ‘ is, or more importantly – what it is not.

Think for a moment, about Android as a product. If someone handed you the source code and you had the tools, could read and follow a few steps and had an environment running to build Android for a hardware platform that you designed (because we both know you are a closet genius), and just built the first article perfectly. There are 3 easy steps you need to accomplish to make sure the mobile device you just put together is Android compatible. They are:
Obtain the Android software source code.

  1. Comply with the Android Compatibility Definition Document.
  2. Pass the Compatibility Test Suite (CTS).

Ok so check. Check….check. Great job! You have a perfectly compatible device ready for an OS flash. You initiate the build for the device….done. It boots for the first time. Let’s pretend the annoying first run tutorial never existed….or perhaps you thought ahead and made some modifications to disable or remove it (always thinking ahead aren’t you….great job on that) it boots to the home screen. What are you expecting it to look like ?
Something like this right? Me too. That’s because when we see advertisements for Android devices, they are shown with the default app configuration. But for some reason, when you look at your device:

google  jail
but they said I was free…

The Google PlayStore is missing. Sheesh….ya Rookie! How are your users going to get at all that application goodness without the application goodness button? You must have missed a step. Well, it looks like you are going to make sure you don’t have anything that constitutes unspecified varieties of legal and business reasons. Can they be any more vague ?

Closed + Open = CLOPEN

I won’t argue that Android, the way Google releases the source, has open-source components. There is a lot of subjectivity that isn’t discussed on the AOSP website. It’s like that purposefully. This leaves developers and users and analysts in a position to make their own judgements on what Android is or is not. If android is a mobile operating system that includes a digital distribution system for Applications, then the source should include it. If Android does not have a digital distribution system, it’s useless. No one is going to use a static operating system that has no way to augment capability with applications.

The good thing (or bad thing) is that unlike iOS, Androd doesn’t have a requirement to use an App Store to install the .apk files that compile the applications and place them on the platform. You can can side load them with a another device or a removable storage which is very inconvenient, or you can deploy them from a website. The increased security risk of requiring the user to consciously degrade the Android security component that prevents it from installing .apk’s from unknown sources might not be worth the the support required to fix more Android malware.

So to maintain security, and create the UX that will be convenient and provides an environment that is conducive to users buying applications…especially on impulse or when bored…you need an App Store. If you aren’t interested in distributing Android in accordance with what Google says or you aren’t interested in allowing Google to harvest user datapoint generated by your users, Google isn’t interested in your needs. You get Android without GooglePlay. 

Android Useless
In real Open-source communities, the decision to project-fork software happens when members of its community develop a schismatic vision for the project yet both sides remain committed to its continued development. A community decides to a fork a distribution when there is enough support for an alternate version to be distributed. This is the beauty (or curse) of open source code: if you don’t like where it’s headed, feel free to make it better from here, just do it somewhere else.
While Android is an open-source mobile operating system and you are free to have access to the source, that doesn’t mean Google ever intended for anyone to really use it that way. The OS is open. Google Apps are proprietary with restrictions and requirements that some might describe as ‘Apple-ish’.

Google doesn’t allow the PlayStore to be distributed on any deployed build of android without authorization. That is the gatekeeper mechanism: Without an application repository, you don’t have developers building anything for your users. Without a library of solid applications you probably won’t have many users, and without users buying applications, there isn’t a viable business model for sustainability if you are a business with a core competence of deploying modifications of Operating System firmware.
Unless you are going to develop applications and give them away for free and aren’t concerned with revenue needed to drive ongoing development and maintenance, user access to an application library is essentially required. You need to attract users to the platform. Operating systems need a community of users to establish its relevance and drive its sustainability. It needs an active developer community to make software that drives growth in the number of users. It needs an ecosystem that provides an environment where users want to support developers by purchasing software, and developers want to support their users in good faith.
So, I’m sure when people heard this blasphemy in McMaster’s rant, they probably took his intent as buzz feed for the Android blog and news engine. At least until he started specifying dates and platform partnership possibilities. He said the Cyanogen would be releasing its own application distribution store im 18 months. He also stated that with a partnership with Aviate Launcher, he could provide the development environment platform for developers to offer Tier one services like Google does in its applications.

The most important thing that those who decided to do some reporting on this, isn’t the change in distribution authority. It’s the complete shift in philosophy and the abandonment of Google’s purpose for Android. For Google, android is the means for user datapoint collection, for trending and selling user-generated data to advertisers. Advertisers are Google Customers.
Kirt McMaster sounds like he would rather have Android users and its Development Community as Cyanogen customers and partners.
When I contemplate that vision of Android, where users are supported instead of harvested, and where the purpose of Android is progression guided by the needs of the user community, not for ad revenue generation…I have hope for Android. I hope that someday the Android community will stop being used and start being customers.
If McMaster can deliver on what he says he can in the time frame he set for himself, and he gets the partnerships in place that he says he needs to achieve a Google-less Android it won’t be a matter of hope.
It will simply be a matter of time.

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