Android is the crown jewel in Google’s vast empire of software and web services, and its unprecedented success has inevitably attracted the scrutiny of European Union regulators. Today, Google steps up its public efforts to diminish European concerns over its mobile market dominance, and it’s doing it with the power of GIFs.
You don’t think we offer choice, says Google, but have you seen how little choice iPhone buyers are getting? All the preloaded apps on an iPhone come from Apple. 39 out of 47 preloaded apps on Windows 10 phones come from Microsoft. But less than a third of preloaded apps on Samsung’s Galaxy S7 come from Google. So what’s the big deal?
Extending the point beyond apps, Google argues that it’s impossible for Android to have a market monopoly when the iPhone exists. "To ignore competition with Apple," says Google, "is to miss the defining feature of today’s competitive smartphone landscape."
The problem at the heart of the European investigation is actually Google’s control of its Play Store, which is the central portal for app distribution on Android and pretty much essential to any new Android smartphone. And since Apple doesn’t license or open-source iOS, and Microsoft’s Windows 10 has no mobile ecosystem to speak of, any new smartphone in Europe that isn’t an iPhone is compelled to carry Google’s apps.
Because Android manufacturers have to have the Play Store on their phones, Google can practically dictate whatever terms it wants to the companies signing up for the privilege. And that’s how it is that the basic suite of Google Play services and apps are installed on every new Android smartphone by default, including such apps as Google Maps, Google Play Music, Chrome, and YouTube. Granted, most of these are the best apps in their class, but the European Commission’s antitrust body is more worried about unfair market power.
But Google’s GIF counterarguments are strong. The Mountain View company also points out that apps like Snapchat, Spotify, and Dropbox have enjoyed hundreds of millions of downloads on Android, which runs counter to the notion that Google is suppressing competition. Google has its own messaging, music, and cloud storage services, and yet its mobile platform is open enough to sustain more popular alternatives without a problem.
What Google is saying, in a nutshell, is that Android is too flexible and manipulable by the user to ever really be locked down and anti-competitive. Okay, so Samsung, LG, HTC, Huawei, and anyone else wanting to sell an Android phone is practically forced to ship it with Google apps on board. Is that really such a big deal if people can get their favored apps for free anyway? And moreover, Google makes the economic argument that "distributing products like Google Search together with Google Play permits us to offer our entire suite for free," so if you really like Google’s mobile apps and don’t want to pay extra for them, you should be happy with the status quo.
That’s Google’s argument, and the question now is how compelling the Euro regulators will find it when they reconvene to consider imposing substantial fines on Google’s practices.
One more GIF, just to complete the set: