We all know about Google’s famous Do No Evil mantra, apparently coined by Gmail developer Paul Buchheit back in the day. But I’ve never put much stock in the sentiment, preferring Don’t Get Caught as a more operational version of the idea. Things we say to get over in the throes of passion have a way of dissipating in the bracing light of the next day.
In recent years Do No Evil has been nudged aside by various efforts to do right by the community, couched in the warm fuzziness of Open. OpenSocial is so far the only official branding that’s emerged from the company, and it from the start was designed to be moved to an independent entity. Google has spent some serious dollars bringing folks from the open standards community onboard as evangelists, and its launch of Google Buzz suggested a harvesting of what together has been called the Open Stack into the underlying fabric of the micromessaging product.
Historically, Google’s infatuation with Open as a brand name has had its challenges in resolving the conflict between standards and speed to market. A minor false note was struck early when Gmail sprouted video chat on top of its Gtalk/Chat product, using some code that looked suspiciously like a Flash container (just right click the video frame to see what I mean.) More recently, the language around Flash at this year’s Google I/O announcements redefined Flash as open by its role in giving users a choice. It might have made an interesting exercise to ask the Ovangelists what they thought of the newspeak, but the Apple/Google falling out seemed to trump the usual hippie language of yore.
Nothing, however, prepared us for the Google Verizon putsch of recent days, where Google made it clear that the FCC had better crawl back into its cave before Eric and the boys get really mad. For those of us who used to refer to the commission as the F-CC in the good old days when Nixon used it to cow CBS away from its antiwar coverage, it’s astonishing to feel sorry for the agency. But a monster carrier and a run-away search monopoly will do that for you.
As John Taschek details at the 11:50 mark of the Gillmor Gang, there are valid reasons for what appears to be an anti-net neutrality stance. The Apple-Google face-off in mobile might run out of steam should the carriers find it prohibitive to finance the buildout of broadband necessary to avoid prioritization. Just because Google itself argued on the opposite side of the fence just months ago doesn’t mean they’re wrong now in sounding the alarm about leaving wireless alone to foster innovation.
What’s harder to swallow than Google’s about-face is their insistence in buddying up with Verizon at the very moment when Apple’s exclusivity strategy is getting a potential makeover. Reports from insidery guys like John Gruber flat out state a CDMA iPhone is on the way, which whether it benefits Verizon or Sprint for sure means AT&T is losing its lock. What it doesn’t mean is that Google suddenly can be in a position to squeeze Verizon the way Apple did AT&T with things like WiFi and an AppStore that siphons off much of the new services from the carrier.
Notice Apple’s iPhone 4 ad campaign, which focuses exclusively on FaceTime. The only concession I see right now to AT&T is what happens when you’re in the middle of a FaceTime call and a cell call comes in. The FaceTime call is unceremoniously dropped, regardless of whether you answer the incoming call. It’s probably just a UI bug that will be fixed with the next point update, but it’s odd to see Apple leave a rough edge like this. Perhaps it’s Steve Jobs’ way of encouraging AT&T to cede some ground before WiFi services become more disruptive.
One way Apple can foster such WiFi momentum is by releasing a class of iApps that work more intuitively with each other in task switching terms. Like, for example, an app that works with a retail store to provide specials in return for WiFi support and a FaceTime logo. Or an app that records hot spots and GPS data and relays presence information back to the cloud where it lights up when your colleague or friend checks to see if you’re online.
This kind of service layer is probably what Google and Verizon are thinking of when they try and carve out a new value-added OpenNet or whatever they’ll sell it as. The big problem they have is that Apple is already there with a two-pronged approach: free HTML apps and curated native apps. In effect, they’re subsidizing the new high value broadband Net at the application layer, funding the buildout in partnership with the media, startup, and business communities.
Looked at in this context, the Google/Verizon recommendations are a defensive move designed to slow or degrade Apple’s momentum. In return for playing catchup, Google erodes its open what’s good for the Internet is good for us schtick and makes it all the easier for companies like Oracle to go after them and Android with lawsuits based on their Sun-bought Java IP. Oh, yes, that’s Android as in the free OS Google is giving away to the carriers.