Yahoo's recent leadership change underscores how some of the earliest Web pioneers have failed the mobile industry.
Yahoo is among my first memories of the World Wide Web. I remember being introduced to it in my college newspaper production room. It was referred to by my peers as a "search engine." I had no idea what the hell they were talking about, all I knew is that it could be used to look stuff up. Later, AOL become my first Internet service provider and email service. I eventually switched to Microsoft's Hotmail, then Yahoo Mail and, when it first launched, Google's Gmail.
As more and more of my work life took place online over the years, I came to rely on free, web-based services that were available both from desktop browsers and mobile browsers. I've been a disciple in the religion of Google since 2006. I use it for almost everything: email, contacts, calendar, photo/video sharing, social networking, writing and document management, RSS/news cultivation, and so on.
While I dabbled with Microsoft and Yahoo's products early on, I settled on Google and have stayed there for one big reason: Google was quick to adopt and aggressively expand into the mobile space.
Long before Android, Google created dedicated mobile applications for Java phones, for Windows Mobile phones, for Symbian phones, and for BREW phones. You can download Gmail clients for nearly every smartphone platform, and plenty of dumbphone platforms. You can say the same of Google Maps, Google Search, and other Google products.
I attribute a lot of Google's successes with Android to the fact that it offers a solid set of integrated services that can be packaged into a single smartphone. Google's services (Gmail, Maps, Calendar, etc.) work flawlessly on Android devices and are appealing to the Google-invested workers on the Web.
Google has been unrelenting in bringing its products to mobile devices. Just look at Google+. It was available to smartphones from Day 1. Same for Buzz.
The question is, what happened to AOL and Yahoo? Both still have a presence in mobile, even if it isn't as visible as Google's. In fact, Yahoo has rolled out plenty of mobile products--only to see many of them fail. Over the years, their interest in pushing out services to mobile devices appears to have faded, or at least taken a back seat to other business pursuits.
This is a shame and, as far as I am concerned, a detriment to the both the web at large and the mobile space in particular.
Not that there aren't a million substitutes for what Google offers. There are thousands of applications that are available to each and every smartphone platform to fill the gaps. The problem isn't the gaps so much as it is the integration and--even more so--the need for competition.
Microsoft is doing its best to put up a good fight with Google. Anyone who hasn't used its Windows Phone 7 platform and associated Microsoft/MSN-branded web and mobile services should take a look. Microsoft offers a well-integrated set of products. In other words, it is easy for people to put all their eggs in the Microsoft basket and not feel too uneasy about it. Everything plays well together.
I am not saying that Yahoo and AOL need to come up with their own mobile platforms to challenge Google. Quite the opposite. While Android does a good job of tying Google's services together, the services exist just fine on their own.
What we need are more, large, Web-based companies that are willing to take the risks that Google has--to push everything to the mobile Web, to offer a suite of products that push boundaries, and to make mobile a priority.
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