Why is Google blocking Windows Phone's YouTube app? In a word, fear

Google's blocking of Microsoft's Windows Phone YouTube app may appear capricious and juvenile, but there's something deeper at work here. Surprising as it may seem, it's blocking the app out of fear that Windows Phone might eventually succeed.

The latest fight between the two giants over the app has been brewing for some time. More than two years ago, Microsoft Senior Vice President & General Counsel Brad Smith charged in a blog post that Google was blocking Windows Phone's YouTube app from working properly. He charged:

"Google blocked Microsoft’s new Windows Phones from operating properly with YouTube. Google has enabled its own Android phones to access YouTube so that users can search for video categories, find favorites, see ratings, and so forth in the rich user interfaces offered by those phones. It’s done the same thing for the iPhones offered by Apple, which doesn’t offer a competing search service.

"Unfortunately, Google has refused to allow Microsoft’s new Windows Phones to access this YouTube metadata in the same way that Android phones and iPhones do. As a result, Microsoft’s YouTube “app” on Windows Phones is basically just a browser displaying YouTube’s mobile Web site, without the rich functionality offered on competing phones. Microsoft is ready to release a high quality YouTube app for Windows Phone. We just need permission to access YouTube in the way that other phones already do, permission Google has refused to provide."

Not much has changed since then. There's been plenty of back-and-forth between the two, including Google issuing a cease-and-desist order demanding that the app be pulled from the Windows Phone store. After Google and Microsoft patched things up, they pledged to work together on a YouTube app that both companies would be pleased with.

Then, when Microsoft released a new YouTube app, Google claimed that Microsoft had "not made the browser upgrades necessary to enable a fully-featured YouTube experience, and has instead re-released a YouTube app that violates our Terms of Service." The company then blocked the app's access to YouTube.

Microsoft responded with a blog post that says in part:

It seems to us that Google’s reasons for blocking our app are manufactured so that we can’t give our users the same experience Android and iPhone users are getting. The roadblocks Google has set up are impossible to overcome, and they know it...We think it’s clear that Google just doesn’t want Windows Phone users to have the same experience as Android and Apple users, and that their objections are nothing other than excuses

Google is certainly losing the war of words, and coming off as bullying, inconsistent, and hypocritical. After all, only a few months ago at the Google I/O developer conference, CEO Larry Page criticized Microsoft for not cooperating with Google API access and claimed Microsoft blocked the ability of other apps and companies to integrate with Skype. "We certainly struggle with people like Microsoft," he said, and called for greater openness and cooperation. Google's latest action is anything but open and cooperative.

So why would Google go to such lengths to block Microsoft's Windows Phone YouTube app? As surprising as it might sound, it's because Google fears Windows Phone. It's true that the latest Gartner report shows Android with a dominating 79% smartphone market share, and Windows Phone with only 3.3%. But Windows Phone growth is escalating quickly. And Google knows that the tech industry is littered with the corpses of once-dominant companies that were killed by Microsoft. Once Lotus dominated the spreadsheet market, WordPerfect ruled the market for word processors, and Harvard Graphics owned the presentation graphics market. Where are they now?

Windows Phone's Achilles Heel is its app gap -- it has far fewer apps than Android and iOS, and is missing many apps that are vitally important to people, including Instagram, Vine, Pinterest...and YouTube. Blocking the Windows Phone YouTube app will make it that much more difficult for Windows Phone to succeed. Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, put it this way to Computerworld:

"Google's going for the death blow. For Google, in the grand scheme, Windows Phone is a nit. But they're still trying to block the success of Windows Phone."

Anyone who ever believed that Google was somehow different than a typical tech company, that it was more ethical or committed to openness than others in the industry can't believe that any longer. This latest action shows that it's as willing as Microsoft ever was to play hardball in pursuit of market domination.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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