How dogma begets anti-app myopia

About a year ago, in Flash, HTML5, and Mobile Apps, USV venture capitalist Fred Wilson argued why web apps were the future of online opportunity and yet again chastised Apple and its “proprietary app centric universe”:

I know where I personally come out in this fight. I much prefer a “web-centric handheld world” to a “proprietary app centric universe”. And that’s why I carry a Google phone instead of an iPhone. For me, it’s a political statement as much as anything else.

I had previously explained why Wilson missed the boat on Flash in Does “A VC” have a blind spot for Apple? and most recently touched upon the business reasons why he is so bothered about Apple’s ecosystem in The Unbearable Inevitability of Being Android, 1995.

The reason why I’m referencing Wilson here is because he’s a prominent member of the anti-app brigade whose crusades are often camouflaged anti-Apple campaigns. The hit-man for the brigade is ex-Microsoft chief evangelist and current Google engineering VP, Vic Gundotra, who told us in 2009:

“We believe the web has won and over the next several years, the browser, for economic reasons almost, will become the platform that matters and certainly that’s where Google is investing.”

Likewise, Wilson believes mobile is an extension of the non-mobile web and the same rules of monetization should apply there:

I’ve been saying for a while now that I think mobile economics will trend toward web economics as the mobile web goes mainstream. In other words, the business models that work best on the web will ultimately work best in mobile. The corollary to that is that the business models that don’t work well on the web will not work well in mobile in the long run.

Given the nature of his investment portfolio this appears to make sense, at least to Wilson. Throughout all this, the one entity Wilson always cites and one that has become true north for him has been in general Google and in particular Android, the land of the “open”, living in a browser, same everywhere, without constraints…indeed a monopoly of business opportunity for one and all.

Now comes Google, according to Wall Street Journal in Google Searches for Mobile-App Experts, that is about to zig big time from true north:

Google Inc. plans to hire dozens of software developers to create applications for smartphones and other mobile devices, people familiar with the matter said, a new strategy aimed partly at helping Google counter Apple Inc. in one of high tech’s hottest sectors.

Google also has reason to try to spur quality, not just quantity, since getting hit apps first can drive demand for operating systems and devices. Some of the apps developed by Google’s new effort may be available only for Android, the people familiar with the matter said. The adoption of Android also helps ensure that Google’s search engine, the principal revenue source for the company, and other Google services are prominent on mobile devices.

The Google effort coincides with a rush by thousands of Internet professionals and college graduates to quit safe, salaried jobs to try their hand at mobile apps.

In a nutshell, Google, one of the most opportunistic web companies on the planet and Wilson’s true north, has seen the light, recognized the centrality of mobile apps and decided to join the revolution. If it’s taken Google 300,000+ apps and 10 billion downloads to see the light, I don’t know how long it might take Wilson to change his anti-app tune and re-calibrate his portfolio.

Google’s H.264 question

In The Practical vs. Idealistic Scenarios for the Near-Term Future of Online Video, Gruber painstakingly outlines the permutations of outcomes Google’s decision to drop H.264 from the Chrome desktop browser may engender.

There have been myopic rebuttals from the Flash amen corner, as expected. But no need here to go into why Google’s done it, as I’ve been chronicling Google’s growing hypocrisy as a necessary result of its chosen business model for many months now.

I’d like to add one question to Gruber’s list and it’s a simple one. Given that

  • Apple will have well over 200 million iOS devices and 175 million iTunes account holders with credit cards by 2012
  • Apple’s iTunes ecosystem is likely the most profitable commercial online demographics ever aggregated, with sustained, proven buying habits and the least purchasing friction
  • Apple will not add WebM hardware support to iOS devices (surely, not without some major Google payoff)

Google’s board should ask the current management this very simple question:

Can Google afford to write off the iOS ecosystem?

If the answer is negative, and there are no other Google shoes to drop, then this was a monumentally shortsighted move.