Is This Google's Two-Step Plan to Take Over iPhone?

For all Google's effortless buzz, the company can't seem to make a splash in the smartphone market. Google smartphones, various designs that all run Google's mobile operating system Android, include the T-Mobile G1 and the myTouch G3, but their sales amount to three percent of all smartphones. If Google is so popular, you wonder, why doesn't anybody want to buy anything three-dimensional from them?

Farhad Manjoo has an interesting piece about how Google could market itself better. It's a two-step: 1) Hook up with a visionary designer to produce a phone that is manifestly sleeker/faster/cooler/more long-lasting than the iPhone, and 2) Target iPhone with a massive ad campaign. Like everything Manjoo writes, it's instructive and clear-headed, but something about the prescription "Just Spend a Gajillion on Cool Ads" strikes me as less than bold, and certainly belongs at the top of the category of Easier Typed Than Done.

But here's a thought: Is Google already waging a marketing war for its smartphones ... on the iPhone? Chris Thompson of the Big Money parses the argument that "by offering so many free apps for the iPhone, Google may be quietly destroying the utility of the iPhone itself." Explain!

You can get Gmail, a version of Google Maps, YouTube, and Google Search on the iPhone, but in many of these cases, you can get a better version of them on the Android smartphone. If Google had been able to put Google Voice and Latitude on the iPhone, [MC] Siegler writes, "it was certainly starting to look possible that eventually Google apps would take up the entire first screen of apps on the device."

And that could put the iPhone at Google's mercy: "Maybe Apple felt that Google was using the iPhone as a gateway drug of sorts to give users a taste of what their apps can do, get them hooked, and then getting them wanting more with more functional versions of the apps on the Android platform."

So Google would be using iPhone as a platform to market their apps until buyers realized, "If I'm using an iPhone to run all Google apps, I might as well just upgrade to a Google phone." Fascinating idea. I don't buy it.

Here's why. For the last six years, I've used only Apple laptops. But the only program into which I ever typed a single word was Microsoft Office for Mac -- with Word, Excel and PowerPoint. By Siegler's analysis, shouldn't Microsoft Word have acted like a "gateway drug," getting me "hooked" on Microsoft and dying to switch over to a Microsoft Windows-based PC to use the rest of the proprietors' software? Well, it hasn't. I love the way Macs run and I love the way Word works, but I'm never switching to a PC.

Smartphones are great app hubs, but first they're phones. If Google doesn't make a three-dimensional machine that works better, or looks prettier, or lasts longer than the iPhone, than it doesn't really matter how many apps appears on the screen with the letter G. They're still appearing on a screen with a silver Apple on the back.