In order to grow and foster broad support, technology platforms need to be open and inclusive. Of course, that’s a sentiment that runs counter to M&A, which by definition is selective and exclusionary. (See our earlier report on how selecting a company to buy often means giving a ring to one while giving the finger to another.) The all-embracing aspect of platforms is one of the main reasons why platform providers (notably Apple and Salesforce.com) have not inked many acquisitions.
We’ve been musing on this in recent days as we’ve tallied up the valuation devastation brought on by Google’s announcement that it will give away free navigation services for certain mobile phones. One of the hardest-hit companies, Garmin, has shed some $1.8bn in market capitalization in the two weeks since Google announced its move. We also noted that Google Maps Navigation is likely to weigh on the IPO of TeleNav, even though the offering won’t hit the market until next spring. And pity poor Networks in Motion (NiM), which has built its business largely on Verizon Wireless, which just happens to be the network that will be the first to offer Google’s free navigation, albeit on a very limited basis. (Although a bit smaller and less profitable than TeleNav, NiM still has a solid business, likely finishing this year at $75m in revenue and hoping to hit $100m in 2010.)
So what does navigation software (whether free or fee) have to do with platforms? Well, remember that Google Maps Navigation is only available (for now at least) on devices that run Android, Google’s mobile OS that effectively serves as the vendor’s mobile platform. So rather than just be a platform provider and let startups develop software on top of that, Google has also stepped into the applications market with its turn-by-turn navigation offering. We would note that this product, which collectively generates hundreds of millions of dollars in fees each year, is one of the few mobile applications that subscribers are willing to pay serious money for.
So in strict economic terms, it’s easy to see why Google is willing to run roughshod over current and potential ISVs as it rolls out its own turn-by-turn navigation offering. Of course, to realize the full potential of the service (where Google infuses ads and paid search results into navigation, as it has done with wild success for Internet searches), the company will need to push it to other mobile platforms.
While most of the focus on Google’s mobile moves has been on that expansion, we can’t help but consider the subtler implications of what it’s already done. The key concern: We wonder whether Google Maps Navigation could undermine the company’s effort to attract other mobile application developers to the Android platform. Not that Google seems particularly worried about throwing elbows in the mobile software development market. After all, coincidentally or not, it timed the announcement of its turn-by-turn navigation product to come just two days before the maker of a rival product filed its IPO paperwork. That’s a curious bit of synchronicity from a vendor that has ‘don’t be evil’ as its informal motto.