How Much Does Google Love Mobile?
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10 March 2011Zilvinas Bareisis
Yesterday morning London commuters reading a Metro, the local free paper, were hit with the front-page news about recent security issues on the Android platform and how Google had to use a remote ‘kill switch' to delete up to 58 free apps from phones running its Android software without users' permission. It was a somewhat ironic coincidence that some of us were actually coming to a Google-hosted event called "Google Loves Mobile". So how much does Google really love mobile? The answer, at least judging by yesterday's event, is "a lot". Anyone who still thinks of Google as primarily an "online search" company should think again - the company now follows a "mobile first" strategy. One of the most frequently quoted phrases during the day was Eric Schmidt's, Google's Chairman and CEO, saying that "if you don't have a mobile strategy, you don't have a strategy". Based on what I saw yesterday, it seems to me that there are multiple inter-related strands to Google's mobile strategy: 1. Android ecosystem. As the owner of the initial developer of Android, a smart-phone operating system, Google has a vested interest in seeing it succeed. Android has a powerful competitor in the shape of Apple and its iPhones, but the range of applications and devices on Android, both phones and tablets, is growing rapidly. Occassional glitches and setbacks notwithstanding, it already represents a formidable alternative to Apple in the smart-phone market. 2. Apps. In addition to thousands of independent developers on the Android platform, Google creates apps itself, the most popular of which it makes available across platforms. Many of its flagship online apps are already on mobile devices (e.g. Google Maps) and the company is constantly innovating and bringing out new applications, that utilise the unique characteristics of a mobile device. Combine those with cloud computing, and you have a powerful new tool in your hands. Yesterday we saw how Goggles, a Google app, running on a mobile phone can be used to solve Sudoku puzzles, or how Conversation, an app still in development, will be able to help people speaking different languages to understand each other with the phone acting as an interpreter. And the apps are not just for fun; many FIs are starting to show interest in the app market, from basic mobile banking apps to remote deposit capture to car insurance. For example a car insurance app can allow you to record and transmit details of the accident to the insurer right on the spot. Google's message to FI's - now is the time to experiment, test and learn. 3. Mobile advertising, which unsurprisingly, Google is very keen to promote. Just like online, it creates a revenue stream for Google; however, the research indicates that mobile ads, if executed well, have better response rates than their online counterparts. Google continues to develop a wide range of various ad formats and helpful tools, such as "click to call", which can populate the dialler automatically with a number, or "site links", particularly useful to FIs, as it allows to have links to dedicated product pages within the main site (e.g. separate links for mortgages or credit cards). Google's advice to FIs - separate your mobile and online campaigns and make sure you are using the most appropriate tools and ad formats. As a payments analyst, I couldn't resist asking the question about Google's ambitions in payments. While Google's executives were understandably careful not to make any "forward looking statements", it is obvious that Google already has many of the ingredients (NFC-enabled Android platform, Google Checkout, One Pass, etc.) to play a key role in mobile payments. Their competitors are clearly thinking the same way - Apple recently announced that more than 200m people have now registered their credit card details with Apple's iTunes. For now, these services are targetting publishers of digital content, but for how long? Today a song, tomorrow a sandwich or perhaps a full meal, all on iTunes? Would you bet against it?