Microsoft and its allies already claim that Google abuses its dominance of web search. Now with the increasingly popularity of Google's Android software, they have complained that same damaging power is taking hold in the mobile internet market.Android is an easy choice third party smartphone or tablet makers such as Samsung and Sony. Google develops and markets the software, and they don’t have to pay a penny. What is more, if manufacturers agree to install some useful Google services, such as Maps and YouTube, on their devices, their customers will get access to Google Play and the hundreds of thousands of apps that attract buyers.
It’s not compulsory and manufacturers can have Android for free without those services, they just have to run their own app store.
In comparison, Microsoft charges something like $30 for each Windows Phone 8 device shipped.
Google is able to both invest heavily in Android and give it away for free because its business is almost entirely founded on search advertising. Most manufacturers accept the apps deal and each device they ship means more mobile search traffic for Google and dominance of online advertising for years to come.
The argument from Microsoft is effectively that since Google dominates web search already, nobody is able to compete with Android because nobody else can afford to give away a mobile operating system.
There may be merit in the complaint, but it’s surely too early to go to the regulator. The smartphone market is young, and Google’s position is not invulnerable. For instance, Samsung sells more than 40 per cent of Android handsets and rising. It could create an independent version of the software and dump Google services from its bestselling Galaxy line.
Likewise Amazon, which already runs its own Android app store for the Kindle Fire tablet is widely-rumoured to be preparing to enter the smartphone market. Rapidly-growing Chinese manufacturers are already responsible for most of the Android devices that are not registered with Google.
Google is even potentially threatened by apps themselves, as more of us go direct to specialists to find our holidays, books or event tickets rather than tap out a web search.
With so much uncertainty in the market, including recent encouraging signs of growth for Windows Phone 8, it seems likely that Microsoft and friends’ latest complaint is more designed to focus minds in Brussels than about genuine grievances, for now at least.