Could 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.