Verizon and Orange give Google the place it wants – on the homescreen

by Caroline Gabriel, Rethink Wireless

While most of the market excitement about the new Motorola/Verizon Droid handset centered on its role as a turnaround device for the beleaguered phonemaker, the real star of the show was Google, which saw its applications – including its disruptive new free navigation software – tightly integrated with the Droid. This cemented Google’s key role in Motorola’s hopes of an Android fuelled recovery – providing usable and well liked apps and user experiences to a vendor that has repeatedly failed to deliver in this respect in the past. ??

And that means a new Android smartphone that is just how Google likes them – with its name all over the homescreen and its services optimized for the phone, and presented as the default. More independently minded manufacturers are increasingly trying to reduce the Google effect in Android, creating their own user interfaces rather as they did for Windows Mobile – HTC Sense, LG S-Class, Samsung TouchWiz, Sony Ericsson widgets, will all turn up on Android, keeping the vendors’ brands strong.

Some carriers are keen on this too – Vodafone, in particular, does not want Google overshadowing its own 360 user experience and has been giving rival mobile Linux platform LiMo airtime as a result. But while Vodafone, China Mobile and others chafe against too much power for Google, other operators see the lure that its familiar services have for the mass market, as they seek to attract casual mobile internet consumers as well as the experts and professionals.

So the week was a triumphant one for the search giant in terms of attracting operator support, even for services that threaten to disrupt and undercut the carriers’ own models. We saw Sprint’s enthusiasm for Voice, Verizon’s implementation of the new, free navigation app, and in Europe, Orange completed the Wednesday hat trick by creating a close alliance with Google, to put Mobile App on the homescreens of a wide range of phones across its European territories.??

The multi-year strategic deal will see Orange launch Google Mobile App across its footprint in a phased approach across many Orange Signature handsets. Google services will be available from the homescreen of these phones, alongside carrier branded offerings like Orange TV.

In the UK and France, Google mobile search results will also include relevant content from Orange’s own mobile portal. This is vintage Google – take away from the cellcos with one hand, launching apps to compete with their own and pursuing open web models; then give back with the other, but on its own terms, with close alliances that leverage the appeal of its brand and programs.

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