Over the holidays, Google logged in more search traffic from iPhone users than from Symbian users, and now Eric Schmidt, Head Googler and Apple Board Member, seems to have to recuse himself from Apple meetings when mobile discussions are happening, and Google has just updated the iGoogle for the iPhone and Google’s Vic Gondotra keeps saying that “This will work great on Android!” all of which lead me to believe that Google is using the iPhone as a finishing school. (The previous sentence was not only one of the longest I have ever written, but also has the distinction of having more hyperlinks in it than any other sentence I have written. Yay me!)
Google is clearly viewing the iPhone as a learning experience. The iPhone could serve as the inspiration for many of Android’s key features. It is very smart of Google to use the iPhone as a vehicle by which they can observe sophisticated mobile devices in action before the plethora of Android devices come to the fore. It is clear, then, that Google is a difficult company with which to partner because they are so good at so many things that it is impossible for them to engage with a partner and then not step on the partner’s toes. (Other tech companies, like Microsoft, and certainly Apple, are guilty of this too.) (Just ask the Konfabulator guys, or any of the freeware folks that made “Spaces” type software for the Mac before 10.5…Cupertino assimilated their ideas and made them irrelevant.)
So, can Android make the iPhone less relevant? The answer is “maybe”. If Google can assimilate enough UI experience from the iPhone, and create better media search tools (and provide an even better browsing experience (Flash support anyone?) than mobile Safari) then I think that Google has the opportunity to return Apple to its industry changing, but fundamentally niche market position in mobile. Since Google does not have to worry about hardware, but rather put all of its emphasis on the core functionality of the software and let other folks (i.e. Android developers) build all of the treacherous middleware and connector pieces, the I believe that Android could have an even bigger actual impact on mobile than Apple has. Apple will continue to own the aspirational user and maintain aesthetic and idea leadership, but 5 years hence, I believe that there will be orders of magnitudes more Android phones than Apple phones.
To be honest with you, that makes me a little sad to envision. I am a big Apple fan, and don’t mind paying homage to Cupertino with an all Mac setup, but the Google beast will eventually eat up the mobile world much in the same way that it has devoured the internet one. Is it a bad future? No, but I suspect that we will all feel about Google the way that we used to feel about Microsoft…