Somewhere, Austin Powers and Doctor Evil are no doubt arguing over the specifics of just how much one billion smartphones are worth. If the headlines are anything to look at, they’re going to be worth a lot more than just a billion or so in any first world currency. That’s because Google is launching their Android One plan to dominate the developing world markets, and will be selling a pile of Android devices priced at under £65. It’s all part of their plan to bring mobile to the developing world, and they are heavily pushing to make that a reality.
Because of this, many heads are turning. Not the least of them being Marc Zuckerberg, of Facebook, who has spearheaded his own plan to provide Internet (and Facebook) everywhere. He’s not just talking either, with massive rollouts, redevelopment of the Facebook platform to be more streamlined and less data intensive, and of course a slew of niche market advertising platform initiatives that didn’t exist a year ago – but he’s not really done that so much in India. Instead he’s been busy in Africa.
In fact, Africa seems to be the major battleground for mobile in the eyes of Facebook, at least according to the Pew Research Group, and their reports on Africa and South America (both large contenders in the developing markets). Google, however, seems to have their sites set on India, which makes sense, but doesn’t account for the possible Facebook acquisition of the Opera search engine, and Facebook’s unparalleled access to user information (either equal to, or just behind that of Google, depending on who you ask and how they are adding up the facts). If Facebook does that, then Google One might be a little alone, as Facebook already has the dominant social platform (remember that joke where the punch like was Google plus?). That gives Facebook access to more local user data and local user activity than any other company on the planet.
However, this is in part why Google has targeted India as their first major market to push Android One, where they will hope to capitalize on the world’s second largest population centre. If you squeeze Bangladesh in there, and maybe some overlap into Pakistan, then Google will have access to the largest population group on the planet, without the rhetoric or double standards of China. That would give Google a massive leg up, as India is also known to be a centre for entrepreneurs, and home to more and more tech centres. Those tech centres provide support to their counterparts in more developed countries like the UK and the US. This, at least for Google, represents something of a golden egg. Add in the fact that Facebook is making light versions of their own system to better be supported by Android devices, and you’ve got a bit of a battle brewing (Google’s already in the ring with Amazon, BlackBerry, and Samsung, so why not Facebook too).
See, Google has quietly been calling the troops home, and while their competitors have taken note, not as many consumers have. Right now they have a cloud import tool that lets users easily switch from the Amazon cloud platform – AWS, and with Google’s global data centres and near marriage to Akamai, they have a reach that is unequalled in terms of business capable servers and CDN networks. In defence of that, one could argue that a logical merger would be Amazon and Facebook, since neither is likely to sell out to Google, but then there is the issue of search engines and how data is accessed. That is where Opera comes in.
Opera is a search engine that some people haven’t even heard of, and it’s the odd man out. There was a time when a sale could have been blocked, but with no one currently owning enough shares to block a sale since Jon von Tetzchner sold off his majority ownership, the company is undoubtedly courting offers and discussing a merger or acquisition. If that happens, it would definitely shake things up a bit. Then we’d have Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Safari – and whoever owned Opera. If that whoever was Google, then the browser OS would be squashed in favour of Chrome. However, if that someone were Facebook, the entire search landscape would change, with Facebook integrated into every browser in every developing nation that Facebook was supporting.
For those of you who think that browsers and all that jazz are no big deal, look back about 20 years, when Netscape was the dominant force, absolutely crushing Internet Explorer. It was a program you had to buy though, but one that was so far ahead of Internet Explorer that it was like comparing a bicycle to a sports car. Then Microsoft used their software monopoly to crush Netscape, which later grew into Mozilla and Firefox (which is now also Chrome). Then Microsoft dropped the ball, letting first Firefox, and later Chrome take the torch. That is why Opera is a wildcard, but for their part, they have remained frustratingly silent. Technically they would be an easy acquisition, sitting on about £0.6bn of value, but at the moment they just seem to be biding their time.
So the Android One flagship is already launched, and it’s targeting a developing market, but if history is any guide, developing markets can be fickle. Those markets are also overwhelmingly more widely using Yahoo for email. If you’ve ever done business outside of developed nations, no doubt you’ve noticed the number of business cards with email accounts that, well, aren’t independent domains, and aren’t Gmail. They are usually yahoo accounts, with some Hotmail accounts, and the rare Gmail account. Undoubtedly that’s a feather Google desperately wants in their hat, as it means more ad revenue.
It seems things are heating up all over the place now, and Google isn’t going to be the only man in this fight. A year ago our money would have been on Google, but a lot has changed, and this fight is far from over. In fact, it’s just starting.
If you’ve got your own spin on the story, or some insights you’d like to share, let us know in the comments section. In the mean time, we’ll be busy with Opera.