Google Isn't Targeting iPhone Users; It's Targeting Everyone Else (Maybe)

from the jump-in dept

There are plenty of stories today about the not-so-secret “Google Phone” known as the Nexus One (assuming no silly legal issues get in the way) was finally “officially” announced. There wasn’t much surprise at the announcement, other than the fact that Verizon Wireless is expected to get the phone in the spring as well, meaning that there’s a CDMA version out there somewhere. Nearly every story about the phone has played the paint-by-numbers game of asking “is this an iPhone killer.” To be sure, the Nexus One (which I have had a chance to play with) is extremely iPhone-like. But pitting it head-to-head against the iPhone may be the wrong way of thinking about it.

As he often does, Bill Gurley cuts through the clutter to make a really strong point. The iPhone and its closed system were designed for the top of the market only. Google isn’t necessarily looking to compete with the iPhone or take users away from the iPhone — it’s looking to attract the market of “everyone else,” for whom the Nexus One (or other Android Phones) represents a huge upgrade over what they have:

The iPhone does exist, and it is wildly popular. There are an estimated 55 million iPhones in use around the world. Despite this remarkable success, history will also show that Apple intentionally chose a business model with plenty of room for disruption underneath its pricing structure. It also chose a single carrier as a partner, which resultantly threatened others. Then Google built a product and a strategy that allayed the carrier’s relative fears. Google gave them what they wanted, and then even gave them money. It could afford to do this because Google aims solely to protect the great business they already have in advertising, not to make money directly from the product (HW or SW in this case). Microsoft Windows, Internet Explorer, and Mozilla’s Firefox represent choke points on the personal computer whereby Google could lose search share, or at least be forced to pay a toll. In mobile, they see a chance to potentially eliminate the toll-takers.

With a business model that allows for much broader distribution and price points that are well beneath the iPhone, Google’s Android won’t compete directly with the iPhone. For the iPhone loyalist, like Stewart Alsop who railed against Android, Android is simply not an option. This price insensitive user demands the very best experience they can possibly have and this is still the iPhone. Users won’t switch in mass from the iPhone to the Android. It’s the other 3.95 billion cell phone users that are highly likely to consider Android a step up from their current feature phone. The Android strategy results in phones at much lower prices with much more diversity which will hit a broader set of demographics. Apple can and will quintuple its current market share and still have a small portion of the overall cell phone market.

This is why the two products do not compete head to head. With its super aggressive model, Android will be the choice of the masses, and with its sleek design and non-compromising price point, Apple will rule the high end.

While I think Gurley overplays the claim that the Android strategy results in “phones at much lower price points,” since that hasn’t happened yet, there are a number of good points raised in this article. In many ways it goes back to the discussion we had a year and a half ago about the differences between open and proprietary strategies. The closed, proprietary, “walled garden,” strategies have advantages in brand new markets — no doubt. They are less chaotic, more user friendly and simply easier to grasp for many. But, in the long run, the open solutions almost always win out. The solutions that allow others to jump in and add stuff, change stuff or make stuff better. It may take some time, and the lead time for the proprietary solution may seem insurmountable, but overtime, the more open solution almost always wins out. Remember when AOL and its walled gardens were going to dominate the “open” internet? It seems likely that the same thing may play out in the mobile space.

The second point that I think is key is the recognition that Google has the opportunity to play a bit of business model jujitsu against competitors with Android, noted in this sentence: “It could afford to do this because Google aims solely to protect the great business they already have in advertising, not to make money directly from the product (HW or SW in this case).” This is a point that we discuss in a variety of different business markets. It’s why we think that those who understand how to embrace the difference between scarce and infinite goods have a huge advantage. If you can make money by giving away a product for free that some legacy business relies on charging for — and then making your money up in an ancillary market (made bigger by giving your product away for free), then you have a massive advantage to disrupt the market.

The problem, however, with Gurley’s post is that it isn’t clear that Google is actually doing any of this. As noted, the pricing on the Nexus One is hardly revolutionary, and seems quite standard. Gurley is right that Google with Android has an opportunity to do something disruptive, but it’s not clear it’s there yet.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: apple, google

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Google Isn't Targeting iPhone Users; It's Targeting Everyone Else (Maybe)”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Google has long since passes the point of doing no evil. Disturbing market places by using their search ad revenue to allow themselves to move into a market is a dangerous step, one that could squeeze some players out of the market, both on the phone and web site.

Yahoo, MSN, and other search engines without hardwired handset access risk falling farther and farther behind. Phone companies not offering specifically google products also risk becoming outsiders. That Google potentially will offer the phone as an unlocked product may also be very disruptive to the markets that the carriers work in.

Google could not do any of this without it’s bags of money, which makes it look like they are trying to buy market share, which in turn is pretty darn evil.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I am not suggesting they are doing a good job, that isn’t the point. We are rapidly heading towards a single company being involved in every part of your entertainment, communication, and information services. That is way more dangerous than slightly incompetent phone companies. That’s a monopoly, the most evil thing possible.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Look up monopoly. Having a product/service in every single business space is *not* a monopoly. That’s called diversified product portfolio and is generally what a large, rich, smart company tries for.

Having the *only* product in a single space *is* a monopoly. Which space would Google have a monopoly in?

Don’t like Google? Type “” in your non-google browser window, on your non-google OS, on your non-Google HW.

And stop being such a drama queen.

I don’t know what *you* do for entertainment, but Google figures not at all, in mine. And the nexus one is not going to change that, even if they gave them away for free)

A monopoly is not even inherently evil (or illegal). An abusive monopoly is.

you want monopoly, look at iphone exclusive carrier deals.

disclosure: I moved from the US to a country where iphone can be had from 3 carriers and is unlocked upon request. We also have an open energy, ISP, and telco market. And 3G only marginally better than SF, which is to say sketchy.

The US: land of the free home of the brave. Well, maybe just home of the brave. With the healthcare system there, you’d *have* to be brave…

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, spurring competition is *so* evil.

..and, since you don’t seem to get it, “do no evil” has an (I thought) implied “to our customers” at the end of it. So, anything they do to help the consumer you should be on board with.. unless you don’t consider yourself a consumer. (or, I suppose, if you are paid for your viewpoint)

If they disrupt every market, causing lazy, bloated incumbents to have to actually innovate again and compete, they are doing a whole helluva lot of good. For Everyone.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

In the end it is evil to the customers as well, because you eliminate competition, which in turn makes the customers dependent on a single source.

Does the term “too big to fail” ring a bell?

We need more mega-corp-blobs running everything like we need more George W Bush. (hint, we don’t need more W)

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In this case, the difference isn’t important. They appear to be rapidly approaching evil.

Joe, there are some circumstances where a monopoly is actually useful. It can often be very wasteful to have multiple players all spending money to accomplish the same exact thing, especially where there isn’t enough market to support them. Needless duplication can be a waste.

Really, what I am against is “buying markets”. Google is muscling into the phone market because they have income in other places. They can afford to come into the market, lose their asses for an extended period of time, and essentially buy the market.

In Google’s case, it gets even worse. They can leverage their web ads / search model to pay for expansion into any market that has traffic, without concern for actually making direct money in that marketplace.

It’s a potential dangerous situation that could leave many people entirely dependant on a single source for everything communication.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Has it occured to you that mobile is where Google’s advertising growth is at? They are moving their existing business into a new space to grow their advertising business. Along your lines of logic, Apple is evil for using their computer and Ipod money to dominate in the Phone business. In your perfect world a company would only do one thing and leave any other business to someone else.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I share your concerns about the idea of a “too big to fail” company being at the heart of all our communication networks some time in the future… but I also have to agree with the AC above me that this seems like a fairly sensible move for Google as a business – not some frivolous and random foray into a new market.

If Google used their deep pockets to enter a market that did not represent a key growth area for their primary business, that would be more concerning I think.

DocMenach (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Anti-Mike, your argument makes no sense whatsoever. You claim that google come into the market and “lose their asses for an extended period of time”. Do you even pay the slightest bit of attention? The Google phones that are currently out are not below the standard price point for what they are, and the pricing plans for the Nexus are also within the current standard prices. They are not undercutting the competition on price, and I seriously doubt that they are losing money on the phone sales, as you imply.

If any phone companies go out of business due to Google’s entry into the market it will be because of their own inability to create a product that consumers want. Good riddance.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Google is doing what they pretty much always seem to do. They are very good at making people think the things you are thinking, and then they just turn the screws endlessly.

In this case, the real trick is their willingness to sell the phone (albeit at a high price) unlocked. That is not a very common thing in the US market. While they are doing locked deals with only one supplier to start with, it appears they will appeal to all of them.

The next step? The price of the unlocked phone will likely keep dropping. I have a feeling that Google’s angle at least to start with is to make the individual providers less important, getting customers to be loyal to Google’s stuff, no matter which network they are on. Locked phones and 2 year agreements are what keep most companies floating. Remove that, and they are forced to compete. With number portablity and an unlocked phone, no need for longer term commitments. That pretty much kicks out the underpinnings of the cellphone business in the US.

Considering how much Google was interested in the spectrum sales in the past, don’t count them out in the business of bypassing the incumbents altogether. Can you imagine their phone bypassing the cell company data networks, doing their own data (perhaps free, provided Google is your homepage or something). It’s pretty hard to compete against free.

Google is the ultimate company when it comes to smiling sweetly as they quietly apply intense pressure in their desired markets. They have the bankroll and the patience to make it happen.

cc says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Still, I don’t see how that makes them more evil than your run-of-the-mill large company…

Disruptive moves into established markets are exactly what we consumers need: someone to keep the big boys on their toes, to keep them innovating and not taking advantage of their position, and to make them fail if they are of no benefit or plain incompetent. You can’t blame Google if they think more out of the box than other companies, and definitely not for jumping at opportunities missed by others. Those are not evil things in my book.

As for them being a monopoly, that’s only for search. But, they are a monopoly based on their virtues — their search technology is currently by far the best in the world (and mind you, they are under heavy fire from the biggest fish of them all). If they lose that race right now they may be doomed, and that is precisely why they are diversifying to remain competitive.

Of course, I don’t approve of everything that Google does. It’s just that what you are describing is not what I would consider evil about Google.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:


“As for them being a monopoly, that’s only for search.”

Please don’t even concede that small point to anti-Mike. There is a vast difference between “dominant” and a “monopoly”. In search, Google is definitely the former, while not even slightly the latter.

In search, the lock in to any given vendor is only as strong as one mouse click. “Click!” you’re on Bing. “Click!” you’re on Yahoo!

There are other competitors, there are NO barriers to entry, there is no lock in, there is no market power to manipulate consumers, and it is not a winner-take-all market. There is no monopoly in search.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Everyone buys their way into a market.

Some do it through acquisition. Some through sweat equity; the development of free software isn’t free. It takes time and effort which people are giving for free. Are they being evil? Traditional SW companies think so. Traditional SW is and always has been a gap play.

How do companies fund research? By taking money they make in other places and sinking it into research, which may or may not lead to mo’ money.

Google is big and successful. And that scares people.

I’m much more scared of the US government and the retarded American public than *any* company in the US. Even the oil companies.

Put your fear in some perspective, man.

CastorTroy-Libertarian says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Didn’t Apple do the same damn thing, take (in your words) big bags for money and buy market share, OH and now everyone is trying to catch up, didnt hurt anyone except the wireless companies that don’t have them… and forced them to go out to the other lazy douche bag phone makers to get an answer, well Palm stepped up, and FAILED, so Motorola stepped up, and MISSED EPICLY… so Google says hmmmm heres a potential market and does the same thing Apple did and Verizon jumped at a chance to get market share back, so now ATT, T-Mobile and the rest have to figure out how to compete with this (good or bad from a product perspective) and it might push Apple to open up, or some one else will say hmmm… good ideas lets do this an open iphone type thingy (maybe i should patent and wait…) and now another crazy hyped phone comes out and some wireless company jumps on it to get market share and slowly but surely the market opens.

If you will notice every couple years some phone comes out and is hyped and is the rage (good or bad, razor, iphone, storm) it will continue to cycle and forces the prices down, and functions up, thats a free market, google has made a device to compete, the market and people decide if its good, and the industry changes to make themselves look good in comparison or to beat it, and while that happens new companies come into the market and the old guard goes away if it cant get it done for the market… Google cant dominate because you have the other wireless carriers looking for any device that can beat them, so unless they are willing to
1) buy all the wireless companies and lock up the system
or 2) hunt down any phone and buy it before the wireless companies do (who will be hunting, and if thats happens i will have to make some phones, so i can force them to battle each other so i can pocket their money).

the market is to swift and changing for 1 company to dominate it for long.. Nokia looked unbeatable, then Razor came along, Motorola looked to be the Juggernaut, and Bang didnt change to good smart phones, and now they are in free fall, Apple has everyone locked, and Bang Google and Blackberry start taking shots, HTC is coming into its own and there are alot of others in the wings.

The Anti-Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

What you are missing is that Google and Apple both have something that a company like Palm doesn’t have: A solid source of profit that isn’t related to phones.

Even Motorola, with other profitable businesses, is having a hard time making ends meet – they lose more than 10% in handsets, and barely break even with other businesses propping them up. It’s such a drain, that they are effectively becoming Google Android resellers…

Apple and Google both (and particularly Google) can afford to work the market because of their other income streams. Apple also benefits greatly from it’s incredible dedicated customer base who would buy bags of Job’s Ipooh if they could only get it.

Literally, Apple or Google could entirely screw up, and still afford to do it again. Motorola and Palm are not so obviously going to be able to do it again, IMHO.

Google is even smarter by having done what is effectively a soft launch on their OS, allowing it to quietly run for a while, then picking up steam as all the Droid style phones hit the market in the last 6 months. Now it a gold rush, with everyone and their dog trying to get Google phone to market. Google comes out, and caps that market with the product that will likely define hip for geeks who hate apple.

Google can afford to play the game with an eye on the long term, as more and more companies come to use android, Google tightens it’s grip very subtly around users data access, which in turn will allow them to work the market at a lower price, and continue to push.

Full disclosure: I have an HTC phone with Android, asian market model. It is very similar to the Google phone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Android is free. So they are not reselling android so much as getting to use a free OS and not having to pay for the substantial development cost of writing and maintaining one themselves or licensing one from SW company like MS.

They can spend their effort out-designing and manufacturing the HW. Which is supposed to be their core business. Slap a freebie OS on it, and they should win, right? If that free OS doesn’t do everything they want, they can change it around, as they see fit, and slap *that* on it.

There was nothing from stopping Moto from building the Nexus. Still noting to stop them.

in fact, the iphone has been out for years, with completely known specs. The fact that not one single carrier up until now managed to put out a phone with a HW spec that seriously competes with iphone is *why* Google stepped up.

Everyone at Google has an iphone. They really, really wanted to use android, because they can make it do anything they want. They had to push HTC to build an iphone-like phone so they could do what they want.

I think it’s great that they’re cutting everyone else in on the result.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Google is muscling into the phone market because they have income in other places. They can afford to come into the market, lose their asses for an extended period of time, and essentially buy the market.”

Interesting. How, exactly, do you differentiate the above from the definition of “investing”.

Not to get too deep into econ with you, but if they’re “dumping”, that’s evil. If they are putting up barriers to entry for competitors, that could be evil. But investing in strategically important sectors…that’s just smart, my man.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I agree with you 100%, Anti-Mike. Google is aiming to become a monopoly and is increasingly behaving like nearly every other huge corporation: evil.

The only mitigating factor is that the wireless carriers have been evil for a very, very long time, so Google is simply pissing in an already poisoned pool.

You want to know why we can’t have a real, open platform, unlocked smartphone in the US? (Google’s phone is certainly not that!) It’s because of the carriers.

davebarnes (profile) says:

Open does not always win

“but overtime, the more open solution almost always wins out. Remember when AOL…”

1. Linux on the desktop (open) is not winning out against Windows on the desktop (closed). Windows is 92% and Linux is 1%. See

2. Linux/Apache servers are doing very well, but Microsoft IIS is also doing well.

3. AOL lost out because it was targeted at newbies. As soon as people realized that they did not need training wheels they left AOL. AOL also lost as the switch from dialup to broadband occurred and they tried to charge extra.

Andrew F (profile) says:

Re: Open does not always win

Microsoft is relatively open (“developers! developers! developers!”), which helped build the initial Windows monopoly.

I think the better argument is that openness helps. It’s a feature, but every feature has a cost — e.g. all else equal, the laptop with a faster processor wins, unless it also costs 3x as much.

Church Lady (profile) says:

For some reason, I feel inclined to take back all the bad things I ever said about you.

But perhaps the WSJ probably has a better grasp of the subject. I promise never to call Mike a “Secret Jew” again, Okay? Will you forgive me?

Besides, when was the last time Rose had a comment? She used to be a regular here. Who chased her off? I kinda miss her.

reader says:

bought it at Walmart last summer...


As he often does, Bill Gurley cuts through the clutter to make a really strong point. The iPhone and its closed system were designed for the top of the market only. -Mike

With a business model that allows for much broader distribution and price points that are well beneath the iPhone, Google’s Android won’t compete directly with the iPhone. For the iPhone loyalist, like Stewart Alsop who railed against Android, Android is simply not an option. This price insensitive user demands the very best experience they can possibly have and this is still the iPhone. – Bill Gurley

These 2 “tech experts” do know that the Nexus One is priced at $520; over 400 bucks more than I paid for my iphone, right?


:) says:

The U.S. is a single point of failure already.

There is no competition on the cellphone market in the U.S..

No amount of handsets or OS will change that simple fact.

Anyone can do a handset what people can’t do is build their own infra structure of towers and it is not because of some price barrier or technical difficulties is because of laws.

If towers where common goods the market and service would be much better.

What I think people should do is think about transmission towers and equipment as a shared cost and all handsets providers and related companies should pay for the basic infra structure so the price barrier to enter would be much lower and the competition much greater. Like T-Shirts are a monopoly their specs are all the same but no one players holds the right to stop others from doing it.

The same should happen to ISPs they should not own the infra-structure they should contribute to it. That is what holding back the U.S.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Open solutions

I don’t claim to speak for Mike, but I’ll take a stab.

Open means anyone can participate. For example, Windows is more open than OSX because it will run on anybody’s hardware while Apple limits OSX to Macs only. To pick on Apple again, Android is more open than iPhone because Google doesn’t have to approve apps before they can be distributed (yes, I know about jailbroken iPhones).

Solution means something that addresses a market need.

I hope you know what always means.

Win means to be proven a substantially more popular option in the marketplace.

Onnala (profile) says:

Compeating, and phone price.

Quote: While I think Gurley overplays the claim that the Android strategy results in “phones at much lower price points,” since that hasn’t happened yet….

While the new Nexus phone might be priced up there with the rest I thought that I should point out about the lower price point is that the Nexus is a flagship phone. Best of the breed. If your price aware though, there are three other not as powerful but still run Android and run 3G on the same service. You can pick up a G1 rather cheep nowdays. For a phone that is really only a year old.

As for how this phone works in the market, I think google was playing a very very fine line on this one. Just look at the features for the phone… and where it is used. It specifically will not work with Verizon tell some ‘unnamed but soon’ future date. Directly protecting Motorola’s massive investment in the Droid. (As an engineer, implementing GSM or CDML isn’t that big a deal and can be done from inception. Nokia does it all the time. with no more then a BOM change.) For directly being on T-Mobile, it does directily compeat with an older touch screen only phone… but…. thats made by the same company building it for google. No loss for them. For Motorola, they have a much cheaper phone with physical keyboard on the same network.

The phone is almost tailor made with feature set and limitations so that it leaves googles partners room on the market. The price point alone helps with that. Other then the droid every other android phone I know of is quiet a bit cheaper.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...