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Google: Cloud Trumps Apps on Mobile Phones

Google's Vic Gundotra
Vic Gundotra
Source: Google
Google may have its own skin in the mobile software game -- after all, it's the prime mover behind the Android mobile operating system. But when it comes down to it, the search giant doesn't really care which handset or operating system comes to dominate the market.

Instead, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) thinks it's found a win-win situation, because it sees cloud-based services like Gmail making the mobile world go 'round.

That was the sentiment expressed by Vic Gundotra, vice president of mobile and developer platforms at the company, who spoke on a panel at the Morgan Stanley Technology Conference in San Francisco.

With much of the buzz at last week's Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona centering on upcoming Internet-centric phones, it's hard to deny that advanced mobile apps and services -- and the phones that support them -- are on everyone's mind. But Gundotra said he was surprised to see the optimism for the smartphone industry continue in the current economy, a fact he attributed to mobile phones' transition to personal computing devices.

For Google, the proliferation of Internet use on these devices -- and the shift away from a fragmented landscape of proprietary phone operating systems -- is especially important.

"If the Web emerges as the 'metaplatform' across all these devices, that's music to Google's ears," he said.

That's especially true considering the expense facing developers of keeping up with a fragmented market. Gundotra said that while he's responsible for a number of mobile apps, like Docs and Chrome, he can't afford to port them all to the major platforms out there, like the Apple iPhone, Nokia, Research in Motion's BlackBerry, Microsoft Windows Mobile, Android and J2ME.

"It's too much fragmentation, and I would argue I have more engineering talent than most firms," he said.

Instead, more important is that mobile phone browsers implement HTML 5, which Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) Safari, Google Chrome and Opera have all done.

"In this new class of high-powered browsers, Gmail, Maps, they rock on those phones," he said. "The others will be struggling to catch up."

The growing importance of a Web-based applications hearkens back to the Net's own growth as a new platform for services over the past decade. That trend led to the growth of companies like Google and concepts like Software as a Service -- while striking a blow against traditional software vendors.

[cob:Pull_Quote]The similarity wasn't lost on Gundotra, who previously served as general manager of platform evangelism at Microsoft.

"Apple exists because the Web won. It's true. I was responsible for evangelism at Microsoft. We were winning pre-Web," he said. But with the move to the Internet as a platform for delivery, operating systems and hardware platforms became less of a barrier to rivals.

"As the Web emerged, all interesting apps moved to the Web platform. That dynamic is repeating itself in mobile," he said.

Praise for the Apple iPhone

And that's why there's so much interest in the iPhone, Gundotra added, citing a report that said 62 percent of mobile Internet traffic in the U.S. belongs to the Apple device.

[cob:Special_Report]To Gundotra, Apple came out on top because the market for Internet access had been constrained for so long. When it debuted both an adequate mobile browser and an application model that met developers' pent-up demand to open up handsets to the Internet, there was no stopping it -- nor the trend that Apple began.

"Looking back ten years from now, we won't just look at the iPhone as a great industrial design or at the App Store, but that it introduced the model of Internet use," Gundotra added.

Page 2: Android's legacy