While the average consumer enjoys the benefits that the latest technology in the world brings to communication and entertainment, the recent record $5 billion EU fine meted out to Google again raised the uncomfortable reality of arguably unhealthy monopolies. Google’s parent company Alphabet was found to have acted illegally in obliging independent smartphone makers who want to use its Android operating system (OS) to also pre-install other Google applications such as the Chrome internet browser and other search apps on their devices.
Despite the fact that Google, at least within the EU, has also been ordered to put a stop to its perceived abuse of Android’s dominant market position, many analysts believe that the verdict has come too late to lead to healthy competition in the near term. Google and its Android OS are already too far ahead of the chasing pack. Amazon, for example, is thought to have dropped out of the OS battle with no plans to return after the company failed in its bid to proliferate its rival ‘Fire’ OS.
There are now new concerns that Alphabet may seek to employ similar strong arm tactics to corner the new markets for smart television sets and voice-activated home assistants. As reported by the Financial Times, FairSearch, an organisation formed by would-be Google competitors and the complainant in the Brussels Android case, warns that Alphabet is attempting to squeeze rivals such as WebOS, Samsung’s Tizen and the independent Roku out of those markets too.
However, Google’s search engine dominance is proving less effective in strangling competition from Amazon this time around. Users go to their TVs predominantly for content, which Amazon has an advantage in through its Prime streaming service. And because voice-activated assistants cannot display a list of search results like a computer screen can, Amazon is also having far more success with its Alexa OS than it did with its Fire rival to Android.
But even though there seems to be a reasonable chance that the latest technology in the world of smart televisions and home assistants won’t fall into the same level of monopoly (or relative duopoly in wealthier nations where Apple’s iOS-operated iPhone has a major market share) as smartphone handsets, there is still likely to be an oligopoly.
Like utilities, digital operating systems are a service that are naturally inclined towards a market where several large operators compete. Relative scale is a pre-requisite to independent developers having a large enough market to make building a diverse ecosystem of high quality applications a viable business model. However, it is still necessary to preserve enough competition for users to have real choice and one dominant tech giant to not be in the position to be able to abuse a monopoly.