Developer's Perspective: Making Sense of the European Commission's Ruling

Guest Post by Czech Developer Petr Nalevka

The European Commission substantially intervened in the operating system competition between Google and Apple to the detriment of Android. That is bad news for users, manufacturers, developers and for the freedom to conduct business as well.

Google was able to pull off a tour de force with Android. Even though unlike its competition, it completely opened its system, which benefited the whole market of mobile technology, it was able to maintain some control simultaneously. It allowed mobile phones manufacturers to implement their services as one package via all or nothing principle. 

However, the manufacturers still had a choice between Android with Google services and pure open-source Android. But, primarily thanks to the high quality of Google services, in the vast majority of cases they implemented the first option. The users meanwhile were able to get rid of Google services very easily and use services of competitors instead.

This system provided Google with more control of Android user experience on one hand and on the other hand, gave it the option to elegantly monetize Android via its services. Thanks to this it was able to invest in Android, to innovate it and at the same time manufacturers and users did not have to pay for it. Simply a win-win.

The European Commission has punished Google similarly to Microsoft and its Internet Explorer in the past. But the similarity ends there. As opposed to the Explorer, Google’s services count among the top on the market. As a mobile developer, I see a tremendous difference in quality between the Play Store and alternative app stores. The vast majority of technical issues that we have to deal with on a daily basis come from a number of different faulty adjustments of Android by manufacturers.

The whole alleged violation of the law is tailor-made for Google. What is a regular market practice for others - provider of operating system choosing preinstalled services - is in case of Google an issue worth of 5 billion fine.

The reasoning? The European Commission distinguishes between vertically integrated manufacturers, such as Apple or Blackberry, and Google, which only licenses its system, and maintains that thanks to a different approach they are not a competition to each other. Pretty much anyone who engages with mobile technology in any way knows that iOS by Apple and Android by Google are the main and serious competitors on the mobile platform's market.

According to the Commission, another reason for the double standard is Google’s dominant position in the market of search engines. More strict rules apply to a dominant company, even though Google achieved this mainly through the quality of its services. This can be clearly illustrated on the market share of search engines on desktop devices. Even though Microsoft still dominates the desktop market with its Windows and preinstalled Bing, Bing’s market share on desktop searches is minimal.

In the upcoming months it will depend on Google, whether it will be able to meet the Commission’s conditions and at the same time to endanger the Android ecosystem as little as possible. We can only hope it will be able to achieve this without a major fragmentation of Android. However, Google will have to find a different (probably less efficient) model and the difference in efficiency will be paid by everyone, including manufacturers, developers and, of course, users. 

The message the Commission sent to the market is clear. It is necessary to either completely open or completely closed operating systems, or the EU will put its foot down. So, at the expense of all, we are more likely to expect closed solutions in the future.