Google rubbishes EU claims that Android hurts mobile competition

11 Nov 2016

Google has rejected claims by the European Commission that Android stifles competition. Image: Asif Islam/Shutterstock

In the face of a $7.4bn fine, internet giant Google has dismissed the European Commission’s claims that its dominance of the mobile OS market is hurting competition.

Google has responded to objections raised by the European Commission (EC) over how it manages Android compatibility and distributes apps.

Google said that the Android ecosystem carefully balances the interests of developers, hardware makers and mobile network operators.

“Android hasn’t hurt competition, it’s expanded it,” said Google senior vice president and general counsel, Kent Walker.

‘The rapid innovation, wide choice, and falling prices we see in smartphones represent the hallmarks of robust competition’

Google launched Android in 2007 as a free, open source operating system.

Walker said that because manufacturers don’t have to buy or build expensive operating systems, some Android smartphones can be bought for as little as $45.

As a result, globally, Android smartphones represent 87.5pc of all smartphones, compared with 12.1pc of phones that are iOS, according to figures from Strategy Analytics.

“Today, more than 24,000 devices from over 1,300 brands run on Android. And European developers are able to distribute their apps to over a billion people around the world. Android is not a ‘one way street’; it’s a multi-lane highway of choice,” Walker said.

All is fair in love and competition, says Google

Walker said that the EC’s claim that Android and iOS don’t compete is simply not true.

“We don’t see it that way. We don’t think Apple does either. Or phone makers. Or developers. Or users. In fact, 89pc of respondents to the Commission’s own market survey confirmed that Android and Apple compete. To ignore competition with Apple is to miss the defining feature of today’s competitive smartphone landscape.

“Second, we are concerned that the Commission’s preliminary findings underestimate the importance of developers and the dangers of fragmentation in a mobile ecosystem.

“Developers – and there were at least 1.3m of them in Europe in 2015 – depend on a stable and consistent framework to do their work. Any phone maker can download Android and modify it in any way they choose. But that flexibility makes Android vulnerable to fragmentation – a problem that plagued previous operating systems like Unix and Symbian.

“When anyone can modify your code, how do you ensure there’s a common, consistent version of the operating system, so that developers don’t have to go through the hassle and expense of building multiple versions of their apps?”

He said Google manages this challenge to make sure there is a minimal level of compatibility among Android devices.

“Critically, we give phone makers wide latitude to build devices that go above that baseline, which is why you see such a varied universe of Android devices. That’s the key: our voluntary compatibility agreements enable variety, while giving developers confidence to create apps that run seamlessly across thousands of different phones and tablets.

“This balance stimulates competition between Android devices as well as between Android and Apple’s iPhone,” Walker said.

Pre-installed apps on Android

Walker also hit out at the EC’s claims that Google shouldn’t pre-install Google apps such as Mail or Maps as part of a suite.

Walker said that Android’s competitors offer less choice in the apps that come with their phones.

He pointed out that, for example, on the Galaxy S7 from Samsung with Android 6.0, 11 out of 38 pre-installed apps are from Google; on the iPhone 7 with iOS 10, some 39 out of 39 pre-installed apps are from Apple; and on the Nokia Lumia 550 with Windows 10, 39 out of 47 pre-installed apps are from Microsoft.

“On Android, Google’s apps typically account for less than one-third of the preloaded apps on the device, (and only a small fraction of device memory). A consumer can swipe away any of our apps at any time. And, uniquely, hardware makers and carriers can pre-install rival apps right next to ours. In competition-speak, that means there’s no ‘foreclosure’.”

Walker also defended the distribution of Google Search and Play which enables it to offer the suite for free, rather than charge licence fees.

“This free distribution is an efficient solution for everyone – it lowers prices for phone makers and consumers, while still letting us sustain our substantial investment in Android and Play.

“Today’s mobile devices show all the signs of fierce competition with a wide range of business models: from vertically integrated ones like Apple’s iOS, to open-source systems like Android. The rapid innovation, wide choice, and falling prices we see in smartphones represent the hallmarks of robust competition,” Walker said.

Google campus at Mountain View, California. Image: Asif Islam/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years