Earlier this month Google launched a new smartphone range called Pixel.
While on the face of it this looks like Google simply revamping their Nexus program, there are hints of a more seismic change in strategy.
With Android, Google have a stranglehold on the smartphone market which is unlike most other industries or product categories. As of Q2 2016 their global market share for operating system penetration stands at a staggering 88%.
They have got to this position with a great strategy – releasing their asset to the open source community and watching utilisation spread like wildfire; while at the same time building OEM partner relationships in exchange for free-of-charge access to their market-leading, revenue generating mobile services.
Google have already got what they need from their partners. The likes of Samsung, HTC, Sony, LG and more recently Huawei and Xiaomi have put Android into the hands of every 9 out of 10 smartphone users across the world.
Google dwarfs Apple statistically in terms of market penetration, but in terms of earnings it’s a different story.
If Google look at Apple and ask what is their success is built on three things leap out – (1) A laser-focus on user experience. (2) An ability to generate and maintain desire thanks to flawless marketing, and (3) Control… basically owning the holy trinity – hardware, software & ecosystem.
Google can surely see a unique opportunity to match Apple on point number #3.
If Google want to be ruthless over the coming years they could pull back on releasing new Android versions to the open source, and not renew agreements with their major OEM partners. Without access to Android the likes of Samsung would be left in a perilous position, scrambling around for an alternative up-to-date OS; leaving Google to defend their 85%+ platform market share on their own.
The fact that Google have essentially matched it’s Pixel ticket prices like-for-like with iPhone 7 suggests they’re in a combative mood.
It would be an extremely bold move, and one which would go against their founding principles, but perhaps Google have decided that they can’t beat Apple with a succession of jabs from endless OEM partners… instead they’re going to have to shape up and deliver the knockout blow on their own.