There is a strange confluence that occurs when tech journalists attempt to pit companies against each other. Perhaps, it’s the easiest way for readers and writers to wrap their heads around when a company has a product announcement or discusses larger business moves. Typically, headlines read “Company A did something today, expect Company B to respond.” The reality, however, tends to be a bit more nuanced than the buzzworthy headlines depict.
Take, for instance, the Forbes piece, Google Fights Microsoft with New Android Branding, written a few days ago. In the article, the Ewan Spence examines Google's recent addition of branded splash screens as a defensive posture against Microsoft’s resurgence in mobile. A few days ago, Microsoft moved Office for Android smartphones and tablets out of beta and opened the floodgates to everyone. Microsoft Office has been a household name for quite some time, unfortunately for Microsoft, their offerings haven’t been a name in 'mobile' for some time. More users are juggling their workloads between devices, and until recently, Office was purely a desktop experience. Market forces have dictated Microsoft’s future development, and the company is finally focusing on the devices people have and want to use, rather than the device Microsoft historically preferred.
As a Microsoft-focused journalist myself, I could very well see the point the author makes.
This isn’t about the market share of Android – that’s pretty much a given, with only Apple’s iPhone a getting anywhere close to the numbers of Google. For me, this is about the battle to be the cloud service provider that is uppermost in the consumer’s mind. Cloud storage companies such as DropBox are on the rise, and with extra services including photo and data backup can be seen as a commercial threat to Google.
With Microsoft’s Office now encroaching on a historically Google branded experience, Google is now encouraged to respond in kind. However, I believe the move speaks to a much larger issue, and the writer hints at it earlier on in the piece. “Google already exerts a significant amount of control over the look and feel of Android handsets that sign up for Google Play certification, such as the placement of a Google search box, where applications and widgets can be found, and visible Android branding when handsets are booted. Apparently the teams at Mountain View want a few more opportunities to remind users that the handset they have is focused around Google, and are sneaking this one through the system via an app update rather than something lower down the software stack in the firmware,” he explains.
Google is quickly maturing, and with that maturity comes the realization that blitzing the market with a proposed open ecosystem, does have some downsides. Similar to Microsoft’s approach with Windows, the OS became a conduit to other services. Users obtained Windows in order to get to other things, and when the experience within apps and services outweighed the necessity for the OS, Microsoft was essentially left scrambling for a plan B. Google could very well be on the same path. As smartphones mature, the new user experience is being held within apps. Google’s Android, is quickly becoming just another app launcher, potentially launching non-Google branded apps. While the brand marketing looks to be the driving force behind the new splash screens, the presence of a splash screen is still a bit of a head scratcher. The Forbes author mentions that, “Previous versions of Android discouraged this practice, and there’s no technical reason why they should be brought back now in terms of the time required to open an application on an Android device. It’s always been in the best interests of a developer to have an app open as quickly as possible, and resorting to a splash screen to cover a few seconds of background action was always a rather quick sticking plaster over a complicated subject.”
Google may or may not be responding to Microsoft’s armored convoy of platform defense crashing assaults with multi-platform app offerings. The more likely cause of the splash screen, however, seems like a more nuanced approach to elegantly redefine Google’s mobile ecosystem. Will suspending precious user engagement seconds with splash screens garner endearment for the brand? We will have just to wait and see. Never the less, the splash screens seem to be less about fighting with Microsoft and more about fighting with not becoming Microsoft’s past.