Why Google’s cross-platform push is brilliant

If someone were to ask me, “Which phone is the best for Google stuff?” I’d be very tempted to answer, “The iPhone.” This is in spite of the fact that Google actively develops the Android mobile operating system that competes with Apple’s iOS. But if you’re to believe what Larry Page said at the close of Google’s I/O keynote on Thursday, Google may compete with Apple, but competing doesn’t mean Apple has to lose for Google to win.

In Page’s exact words, “Most important things are not zero sum.”

It’s that philosophy that has allowed Google to transcend the typical idea of “competition” and truly take its apps and services cross-platform. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Google app on Android that you can’t find on iOS, these days. One of the exceptions to that was Google Talk, but now that the company has transformed that service into Hangouts, it too can be found on iOS devices. Google Music is another, but with the announcement of All Access, we’re sure that one isn’t far off.

Google is able to take this position because the company does not push hardware. Google pushes apps and services. If you want the simple, streamlined experience that the iPhone offers, Google has apps for you. If you want more control over your device, Google has an operating system and apps for you there, too. Google knows that Apple is going to sell a ton of iPhones and iPads — it’s just a fact of life, and its the reason Google pays $1 billion a year to be the default search option for iOS. A presence on those devices is necessary.

(Notice that I’ve left Windows Phone out of this equation, along with BlackBerry. While Google might see iOS as an equal, it certainly has no intentions of helping another OS climb the ladder. Just as Google is wise to pay attention to Apple’s platform, it is also wise to ignore those who are trying to gain ground on Android.)

So what makes Google’s cross-platform push so brilliant, exactly? It comes down to services — more specifically, the ones Google hopes will compete with Apple’s iOS and Mac-exclusive services.

Apple’s iCloud apps, as well as Maps, Messages, FaceTime, AirPlay and so on are great (come on, Maps has gotten better). The problem, though, is that Apple has no intentions of bringing most of these apps and services to Android or Windows, or even onto the Web. These services were built as iOS and Mac-specific features in order to help Apple sell hardware, because selling hardware is how Apple makes money.

As I mentioned earlier, though, Google is all about apps and services.

Bringing almost every single Google app to iOS and the Web means that iPhone and iPad users can gain access to similar services that are free from Apple’s device lock-in.  The Hangouts app is now just as capable as both Messages and FaceTime — if not more — and works whether you’re using an iPhone, an Android device or a Web browser. The same goes for Chrome, Gmail, Maps, Google Drive and pretty much any other category where Apple has tried to stake a claim.

Google has even worked to help other iOS developers use its Google Maps API over Apple’s built-in solution, and has started instructing its own apps to open links in Chrome instead of Safari. How long until other developers follow suit? Along that line of thinking, if Google launches a streaming set-top box as is rumored, its not a stretch to imagine a Google Mirroring API that lets iOS apps mirror to the box much like AirPlay does to an Apple TV.

From where I’m sitting, it looks like Google is fine and dandy with letting iPhones and iPads flourish alongside Android devices. But the company is hard at work replicating many of Apple’s core apps and services and is offering them not only on iOS, but on Android and the Web, too. Apple’s device lock-in may work for those who are 100% Apple across phones, laptops and tablets, but for those who aren’t, Google’s putting itself in position to pick up the slack.

Apple works with Apple. Google works with everything. It’s not entirely true, but its the message that the company seems to be sending. It’s pretty brilliant, if you ask me.

About the author

— Shawn Farner

Shawn Farner is a Harrisburg-based tech blogger who has been involved in online media for over eight years. He covers consumer electronics, Web companies, and gaming.

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  1. I completely agree. But this also backfires on Google. Giving me the option to buy an iPhone and get the same google experience as a Nexus device makes me more likley to stray. This is a bigger deal than you think, as web search is being replaced by app ecosystems; I wouldn’t wantt o continue to give apple the edge. Tho, not much else Google can do about it.

    1. In terms of global market share, though, Apple doesn’t have the edge. Android is trouncing iOS and owns about 70% of the market to iOS’s 20%. That 20% is still a big, profitable chunk, though, which is why Google supports it. And you could just as easily say that Google supporting the iPhone could make it easier for iPhone owners to potentially stray over to Android.

    2. well. you see, google services still are better on android, and more integrated with the OS. besides, the openness of android gives it an edge over iOS.

  2. I highly doubt it would be possible to develop a mirroring API that works with apps besides Google’s own (which is pointless as there are already YouTube Remote apps out there) on (non jailbroken) iOS.

    Also, Gesture Search isn’t available on iOS, I believe. Perhaps not a big deal to most people but I use it all the time, to the point where I haven’t bothered to set up more than one home screen and basically never see my app drawer.

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