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Google drops a Gmail-shaped bomb on Windows Phone

Google drops a Gmail-shaped bomb on Windows Phone


The ecosystem battle continues

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Gmail Windows Phone
Gmail Windows Phone

For Windows Phone users, the news out of Google today couldn't be much worse.

The company announced it's removing support for Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync protocol for new devices from January 30th, 2013. Google Apps for business accounts will be unaffected and existing devices that are setup to sync mail, calendar, and contacts will work fine, but new devices will not be able to use the Exchange ActiveSync protocol with Gmail. It's a big blow to Windows Phone and part of a bigger feud between the companies over the past few months.

Microsoft has just over a month to solve this problem

For iOS, Google's email solution is IMAP support and a dedicated Gmail app, CalDAV for calendar, and CardDAV for contacts. Apple and Google both support CalDAV and CardDAV natively, but Microsoft has chosen not to support either standard in Windows Phone 8… yet. This leaves Windows Phone users in a tricky position: at present, they’re offered two choices to set up a Google account. You can pick between email only or a combination of email, calendar, and contacts. The email-only option will set up an IMAP connection to Gmail which won't support push — it’ll sync every 15 minutes at best. The second option with calendar and contacts lets Windows Phone 8 users setup a Gmail connection using Exchange ActiveSync, with push email, calendars, and contacts. This solution will cease working from January 30th for new devices, leaving Microsoft little over a month to provide an acceptable alternative for end users.

Google is not providing a Gmail app for Windows Phone users, and the company recently revealed it has "no plans to build out Windows apps" beyond a search app available on Windows 8 and Windows Phone. "We are very careful about where we invest and will go where the users are but they are not on Windows Phone or Windows 8," says Google Apps product management director Clay Bavor. Meanwhile, Apple's situation is fine for iOS users as the company hasn’t opted to use Exchange ActiveSync by default and CalDAV and CardDAV are both supported natively. If Microsoft wants to fix Gmail support in Windows Phone, the company will need to provide CalDAV and CardDAV support to sync calendar and contacts. Alternatively, Microsoft could simply remove support for Gmail calendar and contacts sync on Windows Phone 8, but that would alienate Gmail users who wish to use Windows Phone and render the OS useless for anyone who requires Google’s ecosystem of services.

Just another part of the Microsoft vs. Google war

It's a tricky situation for Microsoft and one that the company should have predicted. Google has been updating its help pages to remove references to Exchange ActiveSync recently, leading us to speculate that the company would drop it shortly. Google and Microsoft are locked in a battle in several business areas, namely search, browsers, mobile, productivity, and the future of the PC itself. Chrome is slowly taking IE market share, Google dominates web search, and its Android OS is the biggest rival to Windows Phone. Manufacturers license Windows Phone, but they’ve also been forced to effectively license Android from Microsoft thanks to a number of patent deals the company has struck with manufacturers. Google’s attacks on Microsoft’s various core businesses have forced Redmond to respond.

Google’s announcement comes at a time of heightened competitiveness and attacks from Microsoft. In addition to the Gmail issues, Microsoft recently launched an anti-Google "Scroogled" campaign designed to highlight "unfair pay-to-rank shopping practices" in Google Shopping. Microsoft has also launched "Bing it on" to challenge Google’s search results and the company previously attacked Google's privacy changes with newspaper ads and a Gmail man video.

Battles between the two companies boiled over late last year after Google claimed Microsoft and Apple had got "into bed together" in a patent war against Android. A war of words over Android patents and an antitrust complaint from Microsoft against Google in Europe all appear to have soured some relationships between the firms. Mixed with Google’s lack of Windows apps and Microsoft’s claims that Google "blocked Microsoft’s new Windows Phones from operating properly with YouTube," and the situation is clearly dire.

It's a lose-lose situation for consumers

We've reached out to Microsoft to understand how the company plans to address Gmail support ahead of the January 30th deadline and we'll update you accordingly. If the company doesn't have a plan already in place, it's going to be a busy month over the holiday season to test and deploy a fix in time. Meanwhile, Windows Phone users who want to take advantage of Google's services are the ones that miss out — regardless of who's to blame.