EU has good reason to take on Google for dominating market
Sony, Samsung and Huawei take the back seat on some of their own phones to US tech giant
Standing in a dazzling gold floral dress on July 18, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager declared that Google had engaged in illegal practices to cement its dominant market position in internet search.
"First, Google has required manufacturers to preinstall the Google search and browser apps running on the Android mobile operating system. Manufacturers had to do this if they wanted to sell devices with the Google app store. Second, Google paid manufacturers to make sure that only the Google search app was preinstalled on such devices. Third, Google has obstructed competing operating systems; these could have provided a platform for rival search engines to gain traffic."
Google was given 90 days to pay $5bn, the biggest fine in the EU Competition Commission’s history, or be fined 5% of its daily revenue, $15.2m, every day thereafter. This is the second record-breaking slap on the wrist for Google by the commission in little over a year.
In June 2017 it was fined €2.4bn because the search engine giant had steered users to use its own shopping services over those of rivals.
More may be on the way, as Vestager made it clear in 2016 that this is a three-prong probe into what she calls "a completely Google-controlled ecosystem".
THIS IS THE SECOND RECORD-BREAKING SLAP ON THE WRIST FOR GOOGLE BY THE COMMISSION IN LITTLE OVER A YEAR.
According to StatCounter, Android makes up to 77% of the operating systems (OSs) found on phones today, proving that the ecosystem has a far wider reach than Apple’s iOS or Alibaba’s YunOS, which is the second largest OS in China.
Furthermore, considering that mobile internet makes up more than half of global internet traffic, the Android slice of the pie just keeps getting bigger.
Although Google gives the Android software to manufacturers free and pays them to use their search engine, it more than makes up its money in other ways. With your user data for example, Google makes almost $50bn in yearly mobile advert market sales, a third of the global market, according to research firm EMarketer.
Numbers aside, how does that translate to the user’s personal experience?
Take the new Sony Xperia XZ2, the brand’s first curved move away from the eponymous boxy "OmniBalance" design it’s had since 2013. When firing the phone up you are asked to sign in with your Google account first and your Sony account second. Sony only recommends that you download some of its flagship apps — News Suite, the PlayStation app, AR effect and the like — which are designed specifically to heighten the phone’s experience. The other apps it recommends are Google Slides, Google Sheets and Google Docs.
When you finally finish the start-up process, the phone opens to a large Google search bar at the top of the screen. The first apps on display are the Google apps bundled together for your use on the left and the Google Play Store on the right.
In case the large search bar wasn’t enough, you can find the Google Chrome app at the bottom among the other important phone functions such as dialling and your camera.
If you want to get to Sony’s own music, photo, video and mail apps you have to scroll across to the next home screen.
Sony has taken the back seat on its own phone, and it’s not the only one. The Google search bar is found dominant in the middle of the home screen on the phones of Android heavy hitters Samsung S9 and Huawei P20.
Still Google calls foul play. In a Twitter statement its European branch asserted that it "creates more choice not less".
US President Donald Trump is in agreement and tweeted that the move against the US tech giant was motivated by EU-US trade relations. It is ironic seeing as he almost wiped out Chinese telecommunications company ZTE under the guise that it should be punished for trading with Iran and North Korea, but mostly to wrangle better trade deals with China.
Trump graciously let the company live, but only after raising the threat of trade sanctions and demanding shifts in company policy and imposing his own $1.3bn fine.
All of this has led Huawei to look into perfecting its own OS, according to The South China Morning Post, in case it is next on the US hit list, which can only become longer thanks to the EU commission’s rulings.
If that is the case, the third-largest phone manufacturer in the world could break away and take with it a sizeable chunk of the OS competition, leading to Google’s tweet being accurate — it may all end up resulting in more choice, not less.
• McKeown is a gadget and tech trend writer.