How to Compete Against Google: Build On Android


Facebook invited the media to “Come See Our New Home On Android” on April 4.

The most likely prediction for Facebook’s project, code-named “Buffy,” is that it’s a modified, Facebook-centric version of Android on an HTC handset with a promise of other handsets — some insiders call it an “application layer.”

The dark horse contender is a Facebook-branded phone.

That’s great, right? Facebook has now friended Google and will join the growing family of Android-loving companies. Uh, right?

Wrong. Facebook is joining the club of Google’s enemies who are using Android to take business away from Google.

Facebook has only one truly serious competitor and rival: Google. 

Facebook has only one end-user product, which is its social network. Google+ is the only rival capable of replacing Facebook as the world’s biggest social network (it’s already more than half the size of Facebook and growing faster than Facebook ever did).

Facebook has only one significant source of revenue: Advertising. They compete mainly against Google for advertising dollars on both the desktop and in the all-important and growing mobile ad market.

Facebook has only one goal in order to succeed as a business — keep eyeballs on Facebook and away from the real Internet, which is dominated by Google, including Google Search, Gmail, YouTube and, increasingly, Google+.

So if Google is Enemy #1, why is Facebook “supporting” Google’s Android platform?

The answer is: They’re not supporting it. They’re exploiting it because it’s the most powerful way to beat Google.

How Building On Android Can Take Business From Google

Testifying under oath last year in a lawsuit with Oracle over some patent nonsense, Google CEO Larry Page made it clear that Android is valuable to Google only to the extent that it enables Google to get “pre-existing Google services to mobile users” as The Verge put it. Google bought Android and cultivated the Android platform because, in Page’s words, “We’d been frustrated getting our technology out to people.”

There, in a nutshell, is the key to hurting Google by building on Android: You exploit Google’s effort and genius and investment and branding of Android, but “frustrate” Google’s efforts to get Google technology “out to people.”

That’s the test, by the way, to tell if an Android-using platform is supporting or exploiting Android: Are they giving their users easy access to Google’s technology? Or are they instead pointing users at products and services that compete directly against Google’s technology.

Amazon Showed the Way

The first big, bold move into the exploitation of Android was made by Amazon, when it launched the Kindle Fire line of tablets.

While Google develops Android in order to get Google technology out to people — technology like Google Search, Google Maps, Google Chrome and music, movies and books on the Google Play store — Amazon built a custom user interface to instead direct people to technology that competes with Google’s.

Instead of Google Search, the Kindle Fire points to Microsoft Bing. (The Fire launched with Google Search as the default, but switched to Bing late last year.)

Instead of Google Maps, Amazon is actively cultivating an alternative Nokia-powered Kindle Maps ecosystem, complete with an Amazon Maps API for developers.

Instead of Chrome, Amazon created its own browser called Silk.

Instead of content downloads on the Google Play store, it directs users to Amazon’s music, movies and book downloads.

Google put in the work, the vision, the money and cultivated the developer and user communities. Amazon gets the benefit of all that Google effort. And Google gets nothing.

In fact, Google gets less than nothing.

Using Android in this way is far more damaging to Google than using another non-Android operating system for two reasons. First, it helps fork Android. And second, it converts the Android fans that Google has created and incentivizes them to become non-users of Google services.

People tend to think of Apple as Google’s main competitor in mobile. The reality is that the use of Google’s technology is orders of magnitudes higher even on a per-person basis on iPhones and iPads than on Amazon’s Android devices.

Google makes a fortune on iPhones and iPads and next to nothing on Amazon’s Android tablets.

Now Facebook Follows the Amazon Model

Nobody outside Facebook’s circle of trust knows exactly what Facebook will announce. But I know one thing: Its purpose will be to move eyeballs and mindshare from Google services to Facebook.

And as Facebook has learned from Amazon, the best way to hit Google hard is to use Android to convert Android fans into non-users of Google’s most important technologies.


(Concept image courtesy of designer Michal Bonikowski.)