Mark Zuckerberg’s $190 billion baby feels threatened by the world’s most widely used mobile operating system, Android.
Both companies are a giant in their respective core competencies. For Facebook, it is social media and accompanying online advertising and for Google, a multitude of Internet-based products including a mobile operating system used by over 1.4 billion people.
Why, then, a giant like Facebook is scared of Android?
Google is in a unique position in the mobile arena right now, over 85% of people that use smartphones use Google’s Android, which means it holds the keys to over a billion users’ phones. Android apps use Google Cloud Messaging, a Google service to send out notifications to Android devices. Right now, Google doesn’t charge for its API calls to GCM but it very well could. Now, for small developers, the charges could be minuscule, but Facebook owns four of the most widely used Android apps in the world: Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger, all of which have over 1 billion users and rely heavily on Google-handled API calls.
Google’s been a nice guy and hasn’t used its monopoly in this area to gain financial benefits but I believe they should at least charge as much as it costs Google to run those services. When that happens, Facebook would have no option but to agree to Google’s terms.
Marshmallow is sweet but not for Facebook
Prior to Marshmallow, there were options to insert your own notification system in Android but with Marshmallow came Doze, the ability to vet notifications and decide whether a device should be woken up to receive it. So Google realized the best way to implement doze’s feature is by taking away the ability to handle notification by an app itself. It was time for apps to play by Google’s rule and use GCM in order to send notifications. Any hopes Facebook had to implement its own notifications system is now vanished.
What is Doze and why is Facebook pissed at it?
As the name suggests, it’s a set of changes incorporated into the core OS that allows a device to go into a deep sleep when it is idle for some time. It significantly improves battery life of a device by putting it to sleep and batching notifications with “low priority” tag. Now the problem with Facebook is all of its notifications are “high priority”, which wakes up a device and put its apps on top of battery usage stats. Facebook doesn’t like the idea of their app associating with battery drain, They also believe that this system of notification segregation is the first step down a path that will lead to decreased user engagement.
Facebook could very well ignore its top position in battery usage stats and keep on using high priority notifications but Google’s got that grey area covered as well. Dianne Hackborne, Android Framework engineer, says
[Notifications] must go through Google servers, so Google can monitor and modify what is being sent to devices. If apps abuse these [high priority notifications] for other things besides their intended use, we will be able to stop that abuse without touching any software on the device.
Strategic options Facebook has in this scenario are extremely limited. At one time, Facebook did initiate plans for developing an entire ‘Google Replacement Suite’ that would allow their app to exist without interacting with Google at all. It’s needless to say that it was busted because of the sheer scope of endeavor itself. Facebook was also afraid of making such an open act of aggression against Google. It is understandable, billions of people use Facebook’s apps on Android devices making it a highly lucrative platform for Facebook.
This love-hate relationship between Facebook and Google isn’t only limit to these two giants. The concept of ‘platforms’ made the technological business landscape a strange arena. Once you start using someone else’s service as your platform, you become subject to their rules and changes. Google was in the same situation not too long ago. With most of its searches coming from Internet Explorer, the company had to make sure they weren’t dependent on Microsoft’s platform so they went ahead and develop their own browser. Facebook, however, is staring at a much steeper slope than Google was looking at. Google services are now ubiquitous. If the social media giant wants to escape their predicament, they would have to do more than just create a successful browser. They’d have to create better versions of Google services and coax over a viable userbase. Forget about the entire Google suite of services, replacing YouTube alone is a herculean task that, frankly, Facebook just isn’t up to.
The best they can do now is hope that Google doesn’t decide to cash in on their reliance and play by Google’s rules.
Passionately a software developer, Basit Saeed considers himself a person who believes in software and social media being the change agents of 21st century. He is a techy, a gadgets freak, and loves playing with code whenever he can. He tweets at @basit_saeed.