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Google and its strategy of “meh”

This article appears in the issue April 2010 [Volume 19, Issue 4]
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Is Google too distant from normal customers to understand that a non-direct approach to a consumer market may not generate sales? Engineers and gadget hounds may find the Google approach appealing, but technologists make up a small percentage of the market for mobile devices.

In the United States, the BlackBerry is the mobile gizmo of choice of many executives. The Canadian company is pushing new consumer products to market, proliferating BlackBerry variants for its telco partners, and has been adding support for video and games. But devices like Apple’s iPhone and the Google Nexus One have more cachet among certain buyers than the BlackBerry devices. RIM offers an application store modeled after the iPhone app store. But beneath the colorful apps, the heart of a corporate titan beats. BlackBerry has a robust security system, and its rivals have to catch up in that area.

A bit of digging reveals that Good Technology, a maker of enterprise messaging systems, offers “enterprise grade security and simplified management for Android phones.” The software brings RIM enterprise services to companies, allowing employees and contractors to use the Android devices to access an organization’s mail system and network. Good Technologies’ software offers “over-the-air and on-device encryption of enterprise data, remote application password policies and remote wipe of enterprise data across a wide range of Android handsets ... and multiple Exchange and Domino versions.” Good Technologies provides an enterprise with Web-based management and customer support at good.com/android.

With minimal mobile device market share in both the consumer and enterprise market, the odds seem to be stacked against Google. Apple will fight to maintain its consumer market, and RIM will fight to the death to retain its cachet in the MBA-dense U.S. enterprise market.

Time’s on its side

In the enterprise, Android could—note the conditional—become one more weapon in Google’s enterprise arsenal. Developers can get started by navigating to the Android Market page and following the link for developers (android.com/market). The applications range from Bonsai Blast  to Data Viz’s Documents to Go.

Google is putting a number of puzzle pieces in front of  enterprise prospects, to see how those different pieces will be assembled and if anyone cares about what third parties create. The feigned indifference is part of Google’s shtick. The Android, the Nexus One and the other enterprise components constitute a significant change in Google’s assault on the telephone markets and on the enterprise.

Google’s open source play positions Google away from the “lock in” software popular in the enterprise sector. Apple, Microsoft and RIM are in the proprietary software business. Google positions itself as a good outfit, giving customers an alternative. I think Google and its meh strategy is betting on “pull” marketing, not “push” marketing.

Google may be in a can’t lose situation. If developers jump on the Android operating system, the squabbles about the Apple approval processes and handcuffs are reduced to some degree. If organizations with a Google Search Appliance and Google Maps want to develop custom software, Google’s approach delivers freedom, control and lower costs. Lots of “ifs,” but Google can bet on meh. Apple, Microsoft and RIM cannot.

The real plus for Google, though, is time. When new employees are hired, some of them will bring their expectation that enterprise systems work like Google. Companies like RIM that are well known may not have the resources to keep pace with what independent developers create around Android and other Google services. Google need only make it easy for Google phones and Google services to interact. The Good Technologies’ support of Android is an important step. But corporate Google can take its time.

The key to success for Google is to let the data arrive. Where there is activity, Google will provide additional resources. Apple has a different model. RIM must fund support for its consumer push and defend its enterprise business. Microsoft may become a factor, but time might be running out after so many misses in the mobile sector. Google’s meh tactic is disruptive, and it may set the stage for a reworking of the enterprise market more quickly than Google can disrupt the Apple-influenced consumer market.

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