Mobile // Mobile Devices
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1/3/2013
10:51 PM
Larry Seltzer
Larry Seltzer
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Google at War With Windows 8, Phone?

[2 UPDATES] Google must actually be afraid of Windows Phone, Windows 8 and the Microsoft services associated with them. The threat these pose to Google is serious enough that it doesn't just ignore Windows 8/Phone, but take active measures to make them less usable. The market will speak on this before the FTC gets a chance to deal with it.

The incidents of Google making things difficult for users of Windows 8 and Windows Phone keep piling up. Google seems to be afraid of Windows Phone, Windows 8 and the Microsoft services associated with them. The threat these pose to Google is serious enough that it doesn't just ignore Windows 8 and Windows Phone, but actually take active measures to make them less usable.

Update: We have learned more about the behavior of Google mobile sites in various web browsers. See additions below in context.

Update 2: We have learned that our first update was based on misinformation. More below:

  • Last month Google announced the sunset of support for a variety of interfaces to their mail and other services, including Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). Naturally, most of the attention was paid to the implications for iPhone and iPad users, but Windows 8 and Windows Phone users have it even worse. Unless they are paying customers for Google Apps, they have effectively no way to synch calendar and contacts with Google from their standard apps, and Google has made it clear that it won't write apps for Windows 8.

    Google doesn't even implement the replacement standards it will support properly. Yes, you can connect to Google Calendar with CalDAV, but you can't invite other people to a meeting with it. Google confirmed this problem for me and said it was hard at work on it.

  • On Wednesday, Microsoft's Vice President & Deputy General Counsel Dave Heiner wrote about how Google has refused to provide Microsoft with access to metadata necessary to make a fully-featured YouTube client. Google provides a fully-featured YouTube client for iOS and Heiner implies that a quid-pro-quo exists, in that Google is the only search service offered by default on iOS. But even without such a bargain, Google's actions serve to isolate Windows users from Google services they may have been using for years.
  • Do you have a Windows Phone? You don't have a Google Maps app, and if you use Internet Explorer to go to maps.google.com you get redirected to the Google home page. I've asked Google about this and as of yet haven’t received an answer.

    [UPDATE:]I have learned, however, that the reason for this is that the mobile version of Google Maps is optimized for WebKit-based browsers. WebKit, an open source project, is the browser engine in Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome, the standard web browser in versions of Android brfore 4.0, and many other less-famous browsers. Internet Explorer and Firefox are not based on WebKit and, therefore, the mobile Google Maps site will redirect when run in them.

    Google has indicated in the past that the mobile Maps site would be less exclusive. For instance, in a blog entry from May, 2011, Google Software Engineer Alireza Ali wrote "Google Maps for mobile browsers is platform independent - you will always get a consistent experience and the latest features without needing to install any updates, no matter what phone you use. The blog does say up top that "...today we’re announcing our updated Google Maps experience for mobile browsers on Android and iOS," but the clearer statement indicates that all browsers on all phones are supported.

    UPDATE 2: In fact, Google now says that Google Maps did not redirect Firefox Mobile. Here is their complete statement:

    "We periodically test Google Maps compatibility with mobile browsers to make sure we deliver the best experience for those users.

    In our last test, IE mobile still did not offer a good maps experience with no ability to pan or zoom and perform basic map functionality. As a result, we chose to continue to redirect IE mobile users to Google.com where they could at least make local searches. The Firefox mobile browser did offer a somewhat better user experience and that’s why there is no redirect for those users.

    Recent improvements to IE mobile and Google Maps now deliver a better experience and we are currently working to remove the redirect. We will continue to test Google Maps compatibility with other mobile browsers to ensure the best possible experience for users."

    Whoever it was who said that the Google Maps mobile site was redirecting non-WebKit browsers was misinformed. I will write more about this Monday morning.

  • Other Google browser-based services are available, but just barely, in Internet Explorer on Windows Phone. (I haven't tested these on Windows 8, but on the Intel versions of mobile devices at least you can use another browser like Google Chrome.) Google Calendar has a three-day view and that's it; no month, no week, no modification or addition of data at all. Google+ is a bit more usable, but far from optimized or full-featured. GMail is actually tolerable (if you really need to use it), but certainly a far cry from the level of usability you expect from a mobile device. The Windows Phone app can synch e-mail with Google using IMAP, but that doesn't cover calendar or contacts. Microsoft is certainly working on CalDAV and CardDAV support, but Google's support for those is insufficient.

As I said above, Google's level of hostility to Windows 8 and Windows Phone is striking and I have to think that they see it as a serious threat. Microsoft is trying to offer all the same services that Google does, while offering access to Google's. This is what the little guy does, and Microsoft is ironically the little guy in this market. Perhaps if they were big and dominant they'd be jerks too.

But as a consumer, I want the most access I can get on whatever device I have. For now, Microsoft is providing access to its services for Android and iOS users better than Google and Apple are providing to Microsoft services. One day, if there are enough Windows 8 and Windows Phone users, Google may have to change its tune.

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