Is Verizon Really Taking on Google?

Last Updated Sep 15, 2010 3:13 PM EDT

Verizon (VZ) reportedly has decided to open its own Android app store in competition with Google's (GOOG) own. The carrier is pushing a number of features that it thinks will be appealing to developers. However, this isn't about developing alternatives for third-party software. The move is an offensive in the war between carriers and phone vendors, with Verizon doing the slapping. In the process, Google is getting its butt kicked.

What Verizon is trying to do is create a walled garden -- like Apple (AAPL) has with iOS apps -- and snag a chunk of revenue for itself. The move hits Google in a few ways. First, because Verizon is such a large carrier, this has the potential to drive app business away from Google's marketplace and into its own pocket, so the search company loses an important revenue opportunity.

Next, it helps further the fragmentation of the Android platform. Google wants developers to be able to write one set of apps and then sell to everyone. That's been a pipe dream, given the number of Android versions that various manufacturers support. This would add another type of fragmentation: where developers can go to market. Third, Verizon's move is about market control and helps put Google in its place.

There's a long-standing tension between handset manufacturers and wireless carriers. The latter want to expand their businesses by controlling all spending by consumers. Apple (APPL) has made inroads by keeping tight controls on which carriers could sell the iPhone and by directing all ancillary sales through its own online stores. Google (GOOG) tried a related move by selling the Nexus One, though it completely flubbed the attempt, eventually following its path of "celebrating" utter failure.

Momentum is currently with the carriers. All of them are jealous of Apple's ability to keep making money off customers, but they haven't a prayer of getting a finger into that pie. Instead, they have an eye on Google, and why not? Under CEO Eric Schmidt, company growth has slowed to a crawl and most of its attempts to break out of ads as its main revenue source have fallen. That's because the company, in its arrogance, has failed to learn how to understand another business.

For example, it decided to create, with partner HTC, the Nexus One. Customer relations and service were disasters. Google had to drop the product and HTC ended up a defendant of an Apple patent infringement lawsuit. Granted, customer service at the carriers is no great shakes, but Google is one of the few companies that can make them look like masters.

The Android marketplace has received a great deal of criticism, so Verizon decided to kill two birds with one stone by creating a possible revenue stream for itself by taking many of the smarter features of the Apple App Store and adding some of its own:

  • no testing fees
  • 70 percent developer revenue share
  • an app approval process to (hopefully) build customer confidence
  • billing through Verizon, so credit card authorization is unnecessary, which potentially means easier transactions for and more spending by customers
  • continuity across an app store for BlackBerry as well
  • detailed submission guides, with presumably less guesswork for developers
  • future subscription billing
Can Verizon make it stick? Probably. If not, I don't things would have gotten as far as an announcement for developers. Google does have a strategic option. It could create an app approval program and set up a special section of its app marketplace for officially sanctioned software. That could reduce the amount of garbage and malware-infested apps that are a danger for any open market. But then, Google would have to grasp how to run a service organization, and I see little evidence of that happening.

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Image: Flickr user C_a_N_D_a_R_K ®, CC 2.0.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.