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What the Merging of Google Chrome and Android Means for Mobile

Mar 25, 2013

It may not have re-written recent headlines, but Google’s announcement that it’s putting Sundar Pichai, its senior vice president of Chrome (the company’s search engine and desktop operating system) in charge of its Android OS for mobile devices signals that bigger changes are ahead.

As I see it, these changes have both positive and negative implications.

Let’s start with the positive: Placing Chrome and Android under one roof could mean better integration between the two systems. That’s true even though a formal, more complete product union hasn’t been announced and  details were carefully avoided at a recent press conference.

As the lines between what constitutes a mobile versus non-mobile device continue to blur, having siloed operating systems for each seems increasingly antiquated and inefficient, doesn’t it?  So it’s very likely that in the next 5-10 years, those distinctions will become redundant. To wit, why not start the merging journey now – especially as Android remains the world’s most popular mobile operating system and Apple struggles through what might be called a delayed post-Jobs slump?

As of this writing Apple’s stock price, $452.08, was down more than 15% from a year ago. And, according to 2013’s Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index, Samsung and Amazon dethroned Apple as the most loyally-followed brands. Regular readers of this blog and my column on Mobile Marketer will know that I’m a huge supporter of Android vs. Apple, so I can’t help but feel a little smug by these latest findings.

Now for the negative…

Corporate conglomeration and cooperation can equally become euphemisms for “monopoly” – not the board game, but the real-world competition-stifling monstrosity. I say this only because Google has a very successful track record of making its competitors obsolete. Remember all those late-90s and early-2000s search engines? Save for Yahoo and Microsoft, I can’t think of any left standing. So I Googled (a word that has become synonymous with Internet search itself) “most popular search engines,” and found a great post on Search Engine Land.

These numbers say it all:

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And let’s not forget that “Google,” the verb, has been recognized as part of the English language since 2006.

So, imagine a future where Google is essentially the unchallenged king of web searching, mobile operating systems, social networking and, if prototypes like Google Glass (the soon-to-be-launched wearable computer) prove successful, hardware too. Don’t misunderstand – I am all for Google, but forgive me if I also see signs of trouble on the merger horizon ahead. Anti-trust, anyone? It also sets a dangerous precedent for competitor mobile companies, Apple included, as they seek similar types of hyper-conglomeration and cross-industry ambitions.

In a sense I’m reminded of German and European history. What began in 1951 with the inception of the European Coal and Steel Community, six countries with one shared trading market, culminated – after decades of gradual unification –  in 1993 with the formation of the European Union. The EU has expanded several times since. While the philosophies underwriting its formation are noble – peace, prosperity and stability – the price of too much merging has come at a very high cost. Today (in an ironic nod to history) Germany again dominates Europe politically and economically. With the Euro uniting all in feast-or-famine outcomes, some countries have struggled under what’s become the European debt crisis. And it’s a crisis that won’t be abating any time soon.

Here’s hoping that Google’s subtle yet not-so-subtle corporate structural change doesn’t signal its aspirations to become the strongman of mobile.

That wouldn’t be good for the US, Europe or the rest of the world.

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