Google wants to move away from local apps on mobile devices

At its recent I/O developer conference, Google advised manufacturers to adopt its Android mobile platform for near-term product releases and use its upcoming Chrome operating system for longer-term projects.

I read the above gem in an article about how the iPad caught competitors off-guard. We’ve all heard about Android’s success; that Android-based devices are now outselling iPhones. Given this success, why is Google still developing another mobile OS? The answer is simple, and Steve Jobs nailed it when introducing the iPad: People are using local apps, not web apps and search, on their mobile devices. 

The problem is, if you’re not on a web page, Google’s not making any money. They need you in a browser, not some local app. This is true even on Android. Whether on an iPhone or a Nexus One, if you use an app to find a restaurant near you, Google doesn’t get a cut of that action.

Android copied Apple’s iPhone approach because it had to in order to gain traction. But Google does nothing to help make the Android platform good for apps. There’s little to ensure consistency in the user experience across devices, or even across apps. Little to make third-party apps stand out of a crowded mobile field. Little to help maximize a developer’s reach to the Android base. Indeed, most of Goole’s moves work against those things:  

  • Fragmentation hurts developers since they have to pick and choose what devices to target. It hurts consumers since they will not be able to get the same apps on different devices. 
  • Minimal vetting on apps lets bad ones through, and Google lets the user base report security issues, etc., and pulls the apps after that. Consumers must suffer the pain of doing Google’s vetting for them. 
  • While preaching “open” at the top of their lungs, they’ve gone to bed with Adobe to put Flash on Android, and presumably allow Flash apps. These will be lowest-common-denimonator apps and poor performers, but that’s no sweat off Google’s back. 

In short, while appearing to do all they can to let as many apps be available as possible, they’ve created a platform to breed lower-quality, inconsistent apps that could be risks that have to be removed later. That might even be OK for geeks, but not for the remaining 99% of consumers.

Simultaneously, Google’s working on Chrome OS, a browser OS that does not allow local apps. Google is terrified of the rise of a device platform that no longer relies on their search engine. Even with the “sabotage” done for local apps on Android, they’ll feel better when you don’t run anything local at all. With all the success of Android, there’s little else to explain Google continuing to expend resources developing and pushing Chrome OS.

Google’s message is clear: Stay. In. The. Browser.