Google Insists Android Plays on Level Field in Europe

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Google on Thursday fired back at the European Commission's charges that it violated antitrust law by imposing coercive rules on mobile operators and developers who use or write applications for its Android operating system.

The EC this spring charged that Google's requirements to use its search engine and its Chrome browser on mobile devices running Android were coercive tactics.

The EC also charged that Google prevented manufacturers from offering smart devices using rival operating systems based on the Android open source code.

Google has not harmed competition through the way it offers the Android operating system, argued Kent Walker, general counsel for the company.

On the contrary, Google has expanded competition, he said.

"First, the commission's case is based on the idea that Android doesn't compete with Apple's iOS," Walker noted. "We don't see it that way."

Eighty-nine percent of respondents to the EC's own market survey considered Android and Apple as competitors, he pointed out.

The EC's charges ignore the dangers of fragmentation in a mobile ecosystem, Walker said, noting further that the 1.3 million developers active as of 2015 needed a stable and consistent framework to operate in.

Although developers can download and modify Android as they please, the fragmentation that creates has led to problems for operating systems like Unix and Symbian, he observed.

"When anybody can modify your code, how do you ensure there's a common, consistent version of the operating system, so that developers don't have to go through the hassle and expense of building multiple versions of their apps?" Walker asked.

Apple and Microsoft offer less choice of apps on their phones, he maintained.

Android usually accounts for only one-third of preloaded apps, he said. Consumers can download apps they want to use, and the average user downloads an additional 50 apps over the lifetime of a device. Consumers downloaded 65 billion apps from Google Play in 2015, an average of 175 million a day.

However, there are deep divisions within the tech industry and the open source community about the impact Android has left on competition.

Android actually is a closed system, and any claim to the contrary is disingenuous, said Thomas Vinje, counsel to digital rights group Fair Search.

"Google imposes severe sanctions on those who defy its insistence on conformity," he pointed out.

Phone makers that offer even a few phones that fail to comply with Google's "straightjacket" are cut off from all Google-branded products, according to Vinje.

The EU seems be taking a fairly aggressive stance toward Google on other issues as well, noted Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Google has the facts on its side, he acknowledged, but it's questionable how much that will matter in the end.

"It's hard to envision a scenario in which the company emerges completely unscathed," Castro told the E-Commerce Times.

One of the reasons apps have been concentrated on Google devices is that consumers want what they need in one place, argued Karol Severin, an analyst at Midia Research.

"No matter how many searches or OSes are out there, the best ones are bound to rise to the top and start acting like chip leaders if they can," he told the E-Commerce Times.

The Google argument that Android competes with Apple's iOS is almost the same argument that Microsoft gave when it argued that it competed against the Mac OS in a separate case involving Windows, recalled Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"Ironically, then Google was one of the firms pushing for the adverse Microsoft judgment, while Apple actually defended Microsoft," he told the E-Commerce Times.

The EC was in receipt of Google's response, spokesperson Ricardo Cardoso confirmed to the E-Commerce Times, and in keeping with its standard practice, it would give careful consideration to the company's arguments before deciding how to move forward.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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