Google Documents Fuel Android Favouritism Debate

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Analysts and commentators are all fired up over Google documents discussing how to maximise Android

Internal documents from Google hinting at its preference to give some device manufacturers (OEMs) privileged access to Android have sparked fierce debate among analysts and commentators.

Excerpts from undated documents submitted in the Google/Oracle patent dispute show a discussion regarding how Google can benefit from Android if it gives it away.

A single bullet point reads: “Lead device concept: Give early access to the software to partners who build and distribute devices to our specification (ie, Motorola and Verizon). They get a non-contractual time to market advantage and in return they align to our standard.”

Anti-competitive

Patent analyst Florian Mueller, who published the excerpts on his FOSS Patents Blog, believes this is confirmation of a policy that raises anti-competitive issues with regards to Google’s bid for Motorola Mobility.

Motorola Xoom Tablet

Mueller says Google’s “time to market advantage” is a commitment to distortion of competition with the chosen OEM forced to become a Google “sock puppet” in exchange.

He says requiting companies to “align to our standard” is “certainly not pro-competitive” and, without a contractual agreement between Google and OEMs, Google reserves the right to impose new conditions at any time it pleases.

“It’s the stated commitment to a non-level playing field between device makers that matters here from a commercial and strategic as well as an antitrust point of view,” he wrote.

“The document I showed above removes whatever little doubt anyone had left that Google certainly plays favorites with certain Android OEMs, and if the MMI deal goes through, it will play favorites with only one: its own subsidiary, of course.”

Nothing new

However, TechCrunch’s Jason Kincaid says that Google’s use of “lead devices” is nothing new and and that Mueller’s conclusion doesn’t hold water.

“Google uses these lead devices as a way to keep the Android ecosystem moving forward (other OEMs quickly integrate the latest features, otherwise they fall behind). And Google can use the lead devices as a carrot — should an OEM do something Google deems hurtful to the Android ecosystem, they probably won’t be getting a lead device any time soon,” he wrote.

“Google has every reason to keep as many OEMs pumping out as many Android devices as possible; it isn’t about to infuriate them all by turning Motorola into its blessed favorite.”

Pete Cunningham, principal analyst at market research firm Canalys, agreed. He told BBC News that, behind the scenes, Google had operated the “lead device” policy for a long time.

“Every time there’s been a major launch of Android, there’s been a ‘hero’ product that comes out with it,” he said.

He added, that did not mean Google was playing favourites because Motorola, HTC and Samsung have all had a turn at producing “lead devices” for different releases of Android.

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