Editorial: Why is Google Holding Back Android PMPs?

Android has the potential to leave iPod touch, Apple’s most popular iPod, in a world of hurt. So, why is Google telling manufactures to keep their hands off?

Normally I don’t get too personal in these articles, but today I showed my father a hands-on demo of the latest iPod touch. Shooting a video in 720p, and then moments later playing it wirelessly on an Apple TV over Wi-Fi. It was the first demo that wanted him to upgrade from his Motorola Droid. The second thing he said, was that he would rather have an iPod touch, in addition to his Droid (this was about when the 720p HD video recording hit the HDTV in his living room).

The first notion you have to tackle in Android PMPs, is that nobody wants to make them. Granted, the smartphone manufactuers make an awful lot more on each smartphone than each PMP. In fact, Apple’s biggest issue right now is that iPod touch is probably cannibalizing a lot of iPhone sales. However, Apple would rather own the iPod market, than lose it.

Likewise, smartphone manufacturers would likely love to give Apple a run for their money in this sector. And, they can innovate in ways that Apple doesn’t. A data-only device is possible on Android, whereas Apple may want to leave that to iPad 3G, in order to keep iPod touch from driving people back voice-only phones.

So, we’ve established there’s a market beyond the paltry few PMPs out there. Most of those are controlled by Archos. Archos has issues too, they have been totally locked out of the Google Experience, with zero word from either Archos or Google as to why. Gingerbread was supposed to remedy these woes, and usher in an era of Wi-Fi-only goodness. So, why aren’t we hearing that?

It’s possible Google is holding off after the holidays, but I suspect it’s a bit more involved than that. Google may be marketing carefully, in order to avoid the mob rush of Android devices in varying form factors. Making this holiday all about tablets, Google can then turn its attention to PMPs over the first half of 2011.

Still, I wouldn’t be shocked if come next year, the Google Experience is missing from PMPs, and the set of Android PMPs is still small.

Why? Again, we turn to Apple. Google may be giving Apple a marketplace to call their own, to assuage a relationship that has grown strained. Apple has been extraordinarily public in complaining about Google’s entry into the smartphone space. Apple responded with iAds, striking at the core of where Google makes their profits.

It appears there may be a field of détente struck in the PMP world. And, it may not even be a formal agreement… Google and Apple may both be eyeing the sector as a hands-off realm. By Google staying out of the sector, they can appeal to smartphones and conquer the low and mid-range markets, fighting with Apple at the high-end. And Apple, can keep their massive dominance in music players unopposed.

The consequence of Google entering the PMP market with Google Experience-armed Android devices may be disruptive for both Google and Apple. It could serve as a checkpoint for Apple to close the door on Google completely, pushing Google Maps off the homescreen in favor of Apple-devised solutions. Apple also likely has video delivery services, powered by H.264 and HTML5, that could easily challenge YouTube. They certainly have the new data centers to deliver such content.

And, there’s nothing stopping Bing from writing an additional check, and gaining default presence in Safari search… on both iOS and Mac OS X.

This is probably the most delicate field that Google has entered to-date. However, consumers will benefit the most when they finally do. Users will have a massively-broad range of devices to chose from, from GPS-enabled PMPs, to 4G-only WiMAX PMPs. What you can order a la carte with Android in that sector could easily give Apple a tough time answering all the choices out there, when competing with a dozen Android-qualified manufacturers.

Christopher Price is the Founding Editor of PhoneNews.com. Today, he leads the team building Console, Inc. – a new kind of Android™ device. He still likes to pontificate… a lot. You can visit his personal blog at ChristopherPrice.net.

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3 responses to “Editorial: Why is Google Holding Back Android PMPs?”

  1. Drybones5

    Excellent post. I read it all and thought about those very decisions. Google probably wants to make the PMP market better stabilized and probably with a set of standards for manufactures as to not have that part of the Android market become wild or uncontrolled or isolated from the Google experience.

    Apple, as you said, could pull completely away from Google. If they do, that would be an ultimate downfall to THEM. Think of how many people would have to change services. People who would realize Apple is blocking Google.

    Google maps would be gone. Google search. Who would want a touch screen smartphone with out Google Maps? Or be forced to a different service that might not be as well made or as free.

    Apple would have to hold it’s hands back and only verbally beat them as Google Android PMP’s flood the market, cutting iPod sales and profits. Eliminating Google from iPhone would be to cannibalize their platform to a degree.

  2. Vic

    I can understand what the fear is about, I have a data only Sprint US Galaxy Tab and a very inexpensive free Virgin Mobile phone and plan. Everyone I call knows somethings up because the calls are improved compared to using any smartphone I’ve had!

    Some say “Two devices”, I say yep, one in my pocket and one near by.