26 March 2010

Android and standards sponsorship

The story of Google's "sponsorship" of Android has been making the rounds on various mobile phone and gadget websites in the past days. This story appears to be the source. The essence of the story is this:

In just 18 months, the number of Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Android phones being shipped has soared to 60,000 a day, and over that period countless new devices have been released by handset makers for sale by carriers worldwide.

Nothing typically moves this fast in wireless. So how has Google done it?

Well, at least part of the answer appears to be that Google is sharing advertising revenues with carriers that use Android, according to multiple sources who are familiar with the deals. In some cases, sources said, Google is also cutting deals with the handset makers. The revenue-sharing agreements only occur when the handsets come with Google applications, like search, maps and gmail, since that is not a requirement of Android. Google declined to comment, and said terms of its agreements with partners are confidential.

When researchers began studying standards in the 1985-1995 timeframe (see, for example papers by me, Joe Farrell, Garth Saloner, Michael Katz, Carl Shapiro, Marvin Sirbu, Michael Spring and others), we focussed on understanding the market dynamics of standards wars -- why did one standard dominate the market? How did markets prone to standardization behave? Why do firms use the committee process and what is effective in this process?

Mobile phone operating systems for smart phones arguably represent a market prone to standardizations because of the application ecosystem demanded by users and because of the operating efficiencies demanded by carriers. So, why is Android succeeding where WebOS is struggling? One of the significant answers to this question is sponsorship. The endorsement of key handset manufacturers would encourage carriers to adopt the handsets because of operating efficiencies; however, that is perhaps a weaker form of sponsorship. Google's more overt sponsorship is far more compelling because it results in direct revenues for carriers and would account for the more enthusiastic reception of Android. In contrast, Palm has arguably a superior operating system in WebOS (also Linux-based) but does not have the resources to credibly sponsor its OS. As a result, its system and phones have received an embrace by carriers that is far more lukewarm than Android; indeed, it is perhaps only because of its compelling OS that Palm is getting any interest at all! Its Treo Pro phone, based on Windows Mobile, was treated with much less interest than its WebOS phones.

It is nice when reality lines up with theory!

1 comment:

VoIP Blogs said...

There are so many great free apps in the Google market place that I was compelled to get an android device (N1). It seemed that with my iPhone 2g it got to a point that any app worth a darn priced at around $5. I miss some things about the iPhone, but in the end I am liking Android better.