With the federal government focusing on Android as part of its antitrust investigation of Google, one thing's for sure: It's going to be harder than ever for the tech giant to argue its mobile operating system is still an emerging player in the smartphone market.
Six weeks after officially launching its probe of Google, the The Wall Street Journal reports the Federal Trade Commission is looking into whether Google prevents smartphone manufacturers that use its Android operating system from using competitors' services.
That issue had come to light this spring through a private lawsuit filed by Skyhook Wireless against Google, alleging the company had used its market power to pressure handset makers into dropping Skyhook's location-sensing technology in favor of Google's own location service. Google has called the lawsuit "baseless."
The FTC is reportedly also taking a closer look at how Android might be helping Google maintain its commanding lead in Web search. Google's search engine, of course, is the default option for many Android devices.
Given the investigation's tighter focus on Android, you wonder if Google is going to pull back from underscoring the platform's explosive growth with regular updates on Android activations. At the end of June, Andy Rubin, Google's mobile chief, announced via Twitter that daily activations had hit 500,000, and were growing by 4.4% weekly.
What's more, research firm Canalys last week said Android accounted for almost half of smartphones shipped worldwide in the second quarter, up nearly 400% from a year ago. Apple was a distant second with 19% market share. New data from Gartner Thursday further highlights Android's remarkable growth: Android's share of sales to end users has shot up from 17.2% a year ago to 43.4% in the second quarter.
Former No. 1 operating system Symbian, meanwhile, has plummeted to a 22.1% share from 40.9% a year ago. And keep in mind that according to at least one recent study, Google had almost a 100% share of the mobile search market. Even if that estimate skews high, it's probably safe to say the company is at least as dominant in mobile search as it is on the desktop.
Google's push into mobile payments with Google Wallet could only help cement Android's status as a smartphone powerhouse. So while mobile media, commerce and advertising are still at a nascent stage, it would be hard to say that Android doesn't already give Google considerable market power in the mobile world.
And Gartner forecasts that in 2015, Android will still have nearly half the global smartphone market even with gains made by Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. Whether federal regulators come to view Google, with its dominant operating system, as the Microsoft of the mobile arena, remains to be seen.