Google, so dominant in online search, is increasing its focus on the mobile internet market in a bid to conquer the subsector.
The search engine giant, which has ferociously avoided offline advertising in the past, is looking for a below-the-line agency to promote its mobile services; a move that seems to underline the scale of its intentions (MW last week). It marks the first time Google has sought an agency for its mobile business.
According to Nielsen Media Research, Google already has a 47% share of mobile internet users. Yet heavyweight competitors such as Yahoo! and Nokia – which has set up its own technology to push into local advertising – mean the search engine is not the only one with designs on mobile. Analysts predict that by 2011, the mobile market will be used by more than 1 billion consumers and will be worth £80bn.
Strategy Analytics senior analyst Nitesh Patel says: “Google is a very powerful brand. It will want to take its strong position on the fixed Web into mobile and leverage the brand in the mobile space.”
An issue, he adds, is that carriers themselves want to control user experience with their own branded services, such as independent white-label search tool JumpTap.
Google has already attempted to distance itself from carrier reliance, despite rife rumours of an Apple-beating GPhone.
Indeed, co-founder Larry Page told a US conference last week that Google does not intend to compete against existing carriers. “We have other things to do,” he said. “It’s not our core business,” Page added, despite acknowledging his company has a growing interest in expanding its mobile services business.
Android on trial
Analysts say the GPhone was based around media speculation and instead, a programme called Android has been developed by a group of handset manufacturers, software partners and carriers called the Open Handset Alliance. Android is undergoing trials at the moment and is expected to be rolled out later this year. A Google spokesman say it is working with 30 companies. “The main focus will be to make it easier for people to use the Web,” he adds.
He says “no one has quite cracked” the mobile advertising market but the idea behind Android is “to connect”.
“It’s a big year in terms of mobile,” continues the spokesman, but he admits one of the key challenges will be to make its browsers “fully capable”. There will also be issues with a flat-rate data plan. Mobile internet can be expensive for consumers but a cap would make it far more accessible. He says: “A lot of people who haven’t had access to the internet before will do through this.”
Ovum principal analyst Adam Leach says every handset will have a slightly different version of the software. Previously, fragmentation has been an issue as “you had to do an individual solution on handsets”, he adds. “There is a lot of hype and expectation.”
However, he says similar initiatives have also been trialed and companies such as LiMo and Sun Microsystems will be hot at Google’s heels.
Stuart Robinson, Strategy Analytics director of handset component technology, suggests Android will be “very successful”, particularly because of the Google brand name behind it. Yet he suggests strong competition will come from Simbian (SP) and Microsoft Windows Mobile.
Google has tackled the issue of carrier pricing with the introduction of its Android product but competitors such as Yahoo! and Nokia will not be far behind. Appointing an agency so early in the game shows Google’s determination to keep its reputation as kingmaker in every internet offering.