Networks in Motion: Google Attacking Developer Community, Android “Openness” Total BS

NIM_Logo_jpgCould developers cool to Android if they think Google might swallow their apps’ functionality and roll it into OS updates? That’s the opinion of Steve Andler, vice president of marketing for Networks in Motion (makers of VZ Navigator and Gokivo for iPhone). According to him, the free Google Maps for Navigation Beta is the second time devs have been burned by Google. Latitude was the first shot across the bow when it got added to Google Maps, leaving the likes of Loopt scrambling to justify their relevance.

It’s obviously in Andler’s best interest to defend Networks in Motion and the work that they do in the GPS space, but given his expereince in the PC industry–including at Toshiba, Fujitsu, and Apple–he brings an interesting perspective to the debate over whether Google may be biting the hands that feed Android. Check out the interview and decide for yourself.

What do you think Google’s free GPS navigation means for the GPS industry?

The reason it’s sad for me is that Google is attacking the most profitable part of the mobile software development community. Clearly, they can call Android an open platform, but we all know that that’s a bunch of hooey. They completely control and own it. While people can make changes on top of it, the reality is what’s going to be in Android 3.0 and 4.0 is totally and completely controlled by the warchest at Google.

Do you think Google has what it takes to be successful in the navigation market?

It’s easy to do one device and show up with a premiere device–anyone can write a spiffy UI, especially if you have lots of money and talented engineers. But it’s hard to replicate all those years of testing and integration and working with the handset vendors and working with the content providers and working with the carrier support teams with their network to make sure all these things work together. Because doing real-time navigation is a very complex problem. It’s not like doing something on the Internet, where you do it once and it pretty much works.

And what you’re dealing with here is a map database that is brand-new, completely unproven, and is that really something that should be used for such a mission-critical function as real car navigation? So you can’t just put a bunch of smart programmers on this and assume that you’re going to have a stable, serviceable solution quickly.

And that brings us to the next point, which is that, if they’re going to make this part of the Android platform, who’s going to do all the dirty work? Who’s going to do that integration and porting work for each new device, each new screen, each new chipset, each new set of firmware, each new tweak to the OS.

Why do you think Apple decided not to roll out its own navigation solution?

Until the day Apple announced that they were going to allow us to do our turn-by-turn solution, publically, we didn’t know which way they were going to go. Because there was a very large contingent inside of Apple and the software development community said, “We can do that just as well as they do it.” And it actually would have been easier for Apple since there’s only one device.

But they realized that what was going to change the world was an ecosystem for software developers to impress consumers with their vision of how to do things. Now, do you think if Apple had chosen to take some really key applications and go, “well, we could make more money if we did that ourselves,” that they would be as robust a development community as there is?

So do you believe Android developers will be turned off by this behavior?

The robustness of the ecosystem will certainly suffer when software developers go to get money, the VPs go, “So your business plan is to port this to the platform, and if you have a home run, then likely what will happen is Google will look at that and go, ‘Oh, there’s something we could kill off and put more ads into’.”

They took the most profitable, proven piece of the software ecosystem–two of them, actually–social networking and now navigation and said, “Well, we’re going to say we did this because it’s the most demanded thing by our customers, not because we decided to disenfranchise our software development community and keep all the profits for ourself and turn it into an advertising solution.” Even though it’s a proven thing that people would pay a subscription fee for, which there are very few of those. Because of course everybody would like something for free, right?

How long do you think Google can offer navigation for free?

I mean that’s what Google does, right? They go look for something that people value, and then they go, “Well, we could give that to them for free, if we can add it to our monopoly of properties that we totally control the way to monetize.” But if you take away subscription monetization and wireless, then you’re left with, “Well, I have to monetize by sustaining my product with ads,” which for some products is okay and for other products is not okay.

So you think Google could sabotage their own platform if they continue down this road?

I think so. I think what they’re going to end up with is, it’s the Google solution? While they say it’s an open platform, what vendor, going forward, is going to be able to modify the Google platform, Android platform, to make something special out of it, because they won’t be able to keep up with the next version of Android? And Google will just roll over them. So Google is doing exactly what Microsoft did, which is, they integrate stuff into the core, leaving no room for anyone to innovate.

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Brian Says:

    If the paid applications are really that much better, then let them compete on that basis.
    They shouldn’t have a problem if Google is releasing such an inferior product, should they?

    I’ve seen at least one vendor giving a 14 day trial to new users to check out their map software. I installed it on my daughter’s Blackberry.

  2. Grayharley Says:

    These guys need to look around a little so they can see that in the real world people can not afford another monthly fee for everything they do.

    Most people do not have a monthly data plan for their phone and those that do are not looking for all the apps that come with another monthly fee.

    The standalone GPS systems are where the GPS companies should focus not the cellphone market. They should focus on the people who do not want to pay $30 a month for a data plan. And if you still want to get into the cell phone market offer it for free, the data you can collect will only make your standalone systems better.

    As for other app makers get real the reason most apps are written in the first place is because someone thought it should have been included in windows or on the phone. So if Microsoft or Google agree and include it in the next version means you were right and now you get a better windows or whatever.

    People just like you and me work at Google and they don’t like paying out the nose for stuff any more than you and I do, so if they can offer everyday people something of value for free it saves us all a little money so we can afford to do something else.

    So thank you Google.

  3. POE Says:

    The solution is to find a niche Google isn’t (yet) interested in monetizing and absorbing into their own tools. Let’s see…maps, no; music searches, no; social search, no; payment systems, no; comparison shopping…er, “comparison anything” not anymore. What about online games? No, but it’s next.

  4. scott Says:

    There’s nothing preventing any company from developing a better solution than Google’s navigation solution. A carrier is not obligated to bundle the app. It is not a component of the Android OS distribution.

    What are the odds that Apple would approve an app that competes with iTunes? How many developers have gotten their apps rejected and not gone public out of fear of retaliation?

  5. Charbax Says:

    The industry does not have any organization in the way it innovates. Google innovates faster than the rest of the industry combined.

    Though for sure as a consumer, I would like to see Google innovate even much faster.

    What matters for the consumer, are getting $100 Android phones, $100 Chrome OS laptops and a free White Spaces wireless broadband network.

    I do think Google is planning to provide subscription plans for all its services and for all content providers and third party application providers of the web.

  6. Abhisshek Says:

    The problem seems to be that the app developer lacks the drive to innovate. Sorry you’re on the losing team, but exploiting consumers with subscription based GPS deserves no sympathy.

  7. David Says:

    Google and Apple are not all that concerned about getting some developers angry – they have plenty of them and driving a portion out of business will not really impact their bottom line.
    Apples makes a lot of money on the sale of IPhones. Google makes a lot of money on just about anyone using the internet on their terms via advertisements.
    Apps are just ways to help sell more phones. If google or apple think that they can provide a better end user experience and sell more phones, they don’t care about the app devs they destroy.

  8. Bryan Says:

    OK so this is kind of funny. It is clear to see that NIM will be out of business in the next year or so if Google adds real time voice directions to their Google Maps. I did already cancel my subscription of Verizon Navigator after installing newest Google Maps on my windows mobile phone. Why ? Because its free. And it works better than NIM’s product for sure.

    I used to use the VZ navigator and to be honest wasnt really stunned by its overall performance and look and feel. And I have had it run on 2 different platforms (windows mobile, blackberry). On both of them NIM’s navigator wasnt something that was worth paying $10 a month.

    We are already paying all this money for a data plan, why should we pay additional $10 to have a navigator ? My version of Google Maps works just fine, so fine that I would never go back to Verizon Navigator even if I was offerred the service for half the price.

  9. Kevin Says:

    The real news here is that a (THE) major IT player (Google) is circumventing the main hurdle for offering free turn-by-turn nav: street data licensing. Both NT and TA require significant licensing fees for turn-by-turn apps. Google has their own data for the US (which is why their Nav app is not avail. in the EU yet). By using their own data, they aren’t shackled by the licensing fees that everyone else is. Google has probably developed this data set over the past several years doing the same thing NT and TA does: by driving the roads. Officially for their ‘street view’ feature in Google maps, but obviously they’ve been collecting navigation attributes as well

    What remains to be seen is how the google map data affects their nav application. The google data is bound to be of lesser quality than the other vendors’ that have decades more experience than google. However, if If it’s good enough – and people accept the flaws and nobody is driving off of cliffs or unfinished bridges, then this is a game-changer indeed.

  10. Ken Says:

    It’s not a function of whether a company “lacks the drive to innovate” rather than a rational investment decision. While most companies at this point in the learning curve could not possibly hope to best Google once it unleashes its resources, the problem is that sadly, we’ll never know whether some future company (or consortium) might actually be able to bring something truly innovative to market. Who in their right mind is going to spend money developing an app when Google can instantly make that investment worthless. It’s shortsighted for Google to go ahead and slaughter the goose when the real prize would be a robust app market. Apple recognized that the mission was to earn through scale by providing a safe harbor for developers to invest without fear that Apple would swoop in and make them instantly irrelevant. Just look at the creativity pouring into and out of the iPhone App market. Google will NEVER get there by “out-competing” its developers.
    Finally, no matter how innovative they may be at apps, clearly they’re hacks at creating a meaningful market environment for delivering them.

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