It would be hard to argue that the biggest news in the mobile world from the past week, if not the past year, was the announcement of the Verizon/Google partnership. As Devesh pointed out in last week’s summary, it really sets up a true battle in the mobile marketplace between Verizon/Google and AT&T/Apple.
Now that the dust has settled around the announcement and I’ve had a few days to ponder it, here are 7 predictions on how it will impact the US mobile market.
Prediction #1: With Google’s help, Verizon will develop specific Android features for handset manufacturers to implement.
It’s no secret that Verizon likes to control a phone’s features to preserve network functionality and upcharge users for enhanced features. With Android, Verizon can create a set of features that handset manufacturers will have to include in order get on Verizon’s network. In essence, Android allows Verizon to exert more control over the handset manufacturers with less effort required. Since Android is open source, Verizon could implement these features without a Google partnership, but a close relationship with Google will give them more insight int0 how special features can be implemented.
Prediction #2: Verizon will not fully embrace Android’s open source model
As an open source platform, there is a lot one can do with Android. Given their history, and despite their comments to the press, Verizon must be uncomfortable with the amount of customization that one can do with an Android handset. I’m betting Verizon won’t cripple Android, but it will push the envelop on limiting Android functionality. In other words, while Verizon’s Android handsets will be open source, don’t expect them to be as open source as those you’ll find on other networks like T-mobile.
Prediction#3: Verizon will open its own Android app store
Given the news I’ve seen on Verizon developer conferences and the ability to customize the OS, the short answer is yes. I envision Verizon customizing Android to work seamlessly with its own app store, similar to Apple’s iPhone App Store. Verizon wants to copy the revenue stream and stickiness factor the App Store brings to the iPhone (and by association, AT&T).
Prediction #4: Google will leave it to Verizon and handset manufacturers to promote Android
A large portion of the iPhone’s success is based on Apple’s marketing machine. I’m amazed by how many people are stunned when they realize that iPhone market share is less than 5% in the US. Based on the iPhone commercials, you would think it is well over 50%. Google could help Android’s cause by starting its own advertising blitz. However, since Android is spread across so many carriers and manufacturers, I don’t see Google advertising a particular handset or carrier. Android will be left to Verizon and the handset manufacturers to promote.
Prediction #5: AT&T will not embrace Android
AT&T will release Android handsets, but only because the handset manufacturers are making them. However, as we all know, there is no love lost between AT&T and Google (read the latest on AT&T vs Google over Google Voice). Unless Android becomes the dominant mobile OS, or Verizon starts to make a killing with its Android app store, I don’t see AT&T helping Google promote or encourage the use of Android.
Prediction #6: Verizon will walk away from the iPhone
With this announcement, it appears that Verizon is walking away from the iPhone. While it would seem like putting the iPhone on the Verizon network would be a major win for everyone (Verizon, Apple and users), I get the feeling Verizon doesn’t want to play by Apple’s rules and vice-versa. With Google, Verizon has a partner that needs them more than Apple does in the mobile market. Plus, Google is way more willing than Apple to allow Verizon to customize the OS for their needs. The Google partnership effectively kills the possibility of the iPhone showing up on Verizon anytime soon. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news for iPhone users that are suffering with the AT&T network.
Prediction #7: T-mobile and Sprint will move toward an even more data centric mobile model
The logical thing for T-mobile and Sprint would be to merge and find an OS they can partner with. The problem with a merger is that it would be near impossible to pull off because of the differences in the two carriers network technologies (T-mobile uses GSM, Sprint uses CDMA). As for operating systems, the only attractive partner is RIM (BlackBerry). Both Windows Mobile and WebOS (Palm) are bleeding market share, and Nokia with its Symbian and Maemo operating systems has been irrelevant in the US for at least 5 years. RIM has achieved its success by making handsets widely available on every carrier, so I doubt either carrier could pull off a deal with RIM. In the end, T-mobile and Sprint need not panic – they can still compete. Their independence will give them unfettered access to the latest handset technologies. Since neither carrier has to worry about an existing wireline or voice business to protect, they can attract customers by introducing data-centric plans, handsets and network features.
Whether or not these predictions come true are not the most important part of the Verizon/Google partnership. The significance of the announcement is that it sets up a mobile “Clash of the Titans”, and when companies compete, the true winners end up being the consumers. I am excited to see heated competition in the wireless market and am looking forward to better handsets, better networks and more features for the same price.