Google and Apple both unveiled key mobile initiatives yesterday, underscoring the collision path the two companies are on, and how long-term, video is poised to benefit from their battle.
First, as you no doubt already know, Google introduced the Nexus One, an Android-powered smartphone that it is selling directly to consumers. It is Google's first foray into consumer devices and many more products sure to follow. Meanwhile, Apple, in a rare significantly-sized deal, acquired Quattro Wireless, a mobile advertising company, for around $300 million. Quattro represents Apple's first real push into advertising, an important shift from its traditional iTunes-driven paid media model.
With its own device, Google is primarily looking to compete against Apple's iPhone, which has practically owned the U.S. smartphone market since its introduction 2 years ago. And Apple, with a toehold in the exploding mobile advertising market, is positioning itself to disrupt Google's planned dominance of mobile advertising through its pending $750 million AdMob acquisition. If Apple were to make additional acquisitions, particularly in the online video advertising space, that would further strengthen its position.
Mobile video is poised to be a real winner in the Google vs. Apple face-off. At a minimum, the two companies' considerable marketing spending (plus those of competitors Palm, RIM, Nokia and others) will mean smartphones in millions more consumers' hands, dramatically expanding the video-ready universe. In addition, the experience of watching mobile video will just keep getting better. For example, the Nexus One's screen resolution (480x800) surpasses the iPhone's (320x480), which only means Apple will need to up the ante even further with its next generation. The range of video applications is sure to surge as more and more players stake out their ground.
Importantly, because there are no powerful incumbent distributors in mobile video - as there are in the living room, with cable/satellite/telco - I believe there is more flexibility in how premium video can be distributed to smartphones. Until recently mobile was an "on-deck" world where everything had to be approved and carried by the wireless carrier. But mobile is quickly evolving to take on open Internet-like characteristics, where applications and services are not gatekeeped by a distributor. In short, mobile looks to be more like online distribution than traditional video distribution. As power in mobile shifts to players like Apple and Google, it should also be a wake-up call to the FCC, whose planned wireless carrier-focused net neutrality paradigm already looks out of date.
While there have been recent rumbles about Apple doing something with subscription video for the living room, instead the company likely has more latitude in mobile to go well beyond the pay-per-use iTunes model, especially if it can also bring in advertising. Meanwhile, by having its own device and operating system, Google is optimizing the YouTube mobile experience. As this YouTube blog post points out, the Nexus One is an improved way to search, view and upload YouTube videos. With YouTube enjoying such benefits not just on Nexus One, but on all Android phones, YouTube becomes an even more valuable partner for premium content providers looking to generate mobile usage.
Google and Apple will be jousting for years to come in the mobile space. The opportunities for growth for both companies are sizable. I fully expect that video is a going to be an increasingly important part of the battle.
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