Remember when Google Acquired Android? Steve Ballmer

August 3, 2010 - Written By Mike Corbett

After publishing my heated commentary on Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer’s (now unsurprising) remarks against Android earlier this morning, one of our readers (thanks Tallbruva!) reminded me of a few remarks Ballmer made earlier in Android’s life that are too good to not revisit. For those of you new to Droidland, listen up. Waaaaay back in November 2008 – just one month past the T-Mobile G1‘s launch – Ballmer commented on Android and Google’s mobile operating system model.

Speaking on their plans for revenue, Ballmer stated that he didn’t “really understand their strategy. Maybe somebody else does. If I went to my shareholder meeting, my analyst meeting, and said, ‘hey, we’ve just launched a new product that has no revenue model!’…I’m not sure that my investors would take that very well. But that’s kind of what Google’s telling their investors about Android.”

Irony Note: Google’s gone to their shareholders before (too many times that I care to count, in fact) and suggested free services. GMail launched and people thought Google was crazy for giving away 2GB of email storage (at a time where the norm was anywhere between 50-500MB, with you needing to shell out some dough if you wanted more). Another 5.4GB of storage and perhaps the best, most full-featured web-based email client later and Google’s still running strong with GMail. (Sorry, Hotmail, your so-called “unlimited storage” doesn’t count when you’re going to stop delivering emails after 1-2GB of data. We see through several cell phone carriers’ “unlimited-but-throttled” strategy and we see right through yours.)

What’s more is that Ballmer believed the lack of an “apparent” revenue model (Everything boils back down to advertising and search when it comes to Google, but he probably didn’t realize that. Probably still doesn’t.) would mean Google would neglect to update Android over time. He essentially said that Android was a dead end operating system out of the starting gate. Had he known the true power of open source, he’d know that Android’s model would stand to connect Google’s team of engineers with all sorts of developers to drive forward the ideas we see implemented into the operating system today. Did we not see Google show interest in JIT following the aftermarket development scene’s adoption? Do you think many of the other innovative features of today’s Android came from just a small team of engineers?

Irony Note: While Windows Mobile may still be receiving upgrades to this day, the updates are sorely lacking and barely add anything worth smiling about. Most of these “upgrades” boil down to fixing the many bugs that Windows Mobile is still riddled with. Wait, something’s not right: people have to pay to license Windows Mobile. Why aren’t we seeing development even more rapid than what we’ve seen come out of Mountain View?

Let’s dismiss Google Docs, Google Code, Google Apps, Google Books, and all of the countless other Google products that they offer for free at some level. Let’s forget that they still find ways to rake in billions of dollars every year. Oh drats, did I forget to add Android to that list of free products? Silly me. The fun didn’t end there, though. Ballmer didn’t see Android as a top competitor back then. And why should he have? The OS was new, the model was risky, and for months there’d only been one phone to carry the green flag.

The mistake that Ballmer made was not capitalizing on that (not that I’m mad at him for it). Google’s model shines where an open sourced system practically defines innovation and rapid iteration. While many have their reservations on the topic of fragmentation and why Google’s quick development cycles may be more harmful than good, you can’t dispute the effectiveness of the open source model that Google’s decided to employ with Android. Without it, we’d be like many Windows Mobile smartphone users stuck behind the curve on innovation and having to put up with a clunky smartphone experience because Microsoft fails to see the need to take a walk on the wild side every now and then.

If I’m not mistaken, Windows Mobile was introduced at the turn of the new century. Being a former Windows Mobile user myself, I looked back into my memories and realized something: it’s been nearly the same for the past 7 years. While Microsoft sits back and waits to test the waters, Google’s already jumped in and has gotten comfortable with the temperatures. The “wait-and-see” strategy of yesteryear has been over for a long time now and Google’s realized that. That’s the difference between Android doing more in a year and a half compared to Microsoft after 7-10 years. The only innovation we’ve seen in recent years for Microsoft’s mobile front has only been thanks to HTC and the make-up they so desperately needed to apply to that pig. Windows Phone 7 is a step in the right direction, but now Microsoft are the ones trying to play catch-up and if they don’t change their outlook soon, they won’t find themselves ever doing just that.

I wanted to revisit this story not because I’m hellbent on damning Steve Ballmer, Microsoft, and their mobile operating system, but because I want new Android users to see why we’re so lucky to have Google backing the operating system and why Android will continue to be as successful as it has been. While the tablet market may not be there now (just as the hardware market for Android wasn’t back during its baby months), don’t think it gives you guys (Microsoft) any reason to keep from getting a move on yourself: you already shot yourself in the foot with that bullet too many times before.