The EU re­cently handed Google a $6.8bn fine over An­droid, but what if it had never ex­isted?

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The EU has fined Google over An­droid, lead­ing Dun­can Bell to pon­der, what would it be like if An­droid never ex­isted?

There is a mas­sive dis­con­nect be­tween what the me­dia, law­mak­ers and reg­u­la­tors want from tech brands, and what pun­ters want. In some ways, this dis­con­nect de­fines many of the bad bits about the world in which we live to­day, from web se­cu­rity to fake news.

The dif­fer­ence in at­ti­tude can be sim­plis­ti­cally summed up like this: (some) jour­nal­ists and reg­u­la­tors can see that lax in­ter­net se­cu­rity and the way mega tech brands do busi­ness is caus­ing mas­sive dan­ger, po­ten­tial harm and ac­tual harm.

And cus­tomers just want their damn de­vices to work so they can down­load this video clip or meme they’ve been sent.

Any­way, I thought about this again re­cently, when the EU slapped Google with a mas­sive $6.8 bil­lion fine for, as far as I can make out, giv­ing away its An­droid OS to hand­set brands, but in­clud­ing Google Search in it.

You could go on about the rights and wrongs of this for quite a while. Pos­si­bly Google acted in a way that sti­fled com­pe­ti­tion at the dawn of the mo­bile in­ter­net age, but try­ing to fix that now is like try­ing to make the sky a bit lower.

It got me think­ing about what mo­bile phone shops would look like now if the EU was able to go back in time and stran­gle An­droid at birth, just like in Ter­mi­na­tor 2.

Ap­ple vs The World

I think I may have men­tioned this be­fore, but there’s a very in­ter­est­ing in­fo­graphic you can view re­lat­ing to smart­phones. It con­sist of about 50 ba­sic line draw­ings of phones be­fore and af­ter the iPhone be­came a main­stream suc­cess (around iPhone 3G, I ex­pect). Be­fore: ev­ery size, shape and style you could imag­ine a phone to be. Af­ter: rec­tan­gu­lar screens with a bezel around. That wasn’t just down to Ap­ple, though. In fact, it was mainly driven by Google An­droid.

The Peo­ple’s Op­er­at­ing Sys­tem ac­tu­ally started out on a weird fold-out key­board made by HTC, but the iPhone’s suc­cess soon pushed An­droid hard­ware to­wards a uni­form, all-screen ap­proach.

As a re­sult, every­one now has that style of phone. With­out Google giv­ing away (sub­ject to cer­tain re­quire­ments) An­droid OS to hard­ware brands, it’s hard to see that hap­pen­ing. We could now be in an al­ter­nate uni­verse where those with money have iPhones (or phones made by Google it­self), and every­one else has phones made with very dif­fer­ing ap­proaches, qual­ity lev­els and com­pet­ing OSes.

Ev­ery­thing from Mi­crosoft Win­dows 7 to Nokia Sym­bian 47 could be do­ing bat­tle in a chaotic mar­ket­place with stand­alone op­er­at­ing sys­tems from Sony, Sam­sung, et al. Chal­lengers would be us­ing mo­bile Linux or an OS knocked up in the shed as a hobby.

Would Face­book or Twit­ter be so huge if they’d had to build and main­tain apps for mul­ti­ple com­pet­ing OSes? Would iOS and An­droid have blazed for­ward as they have if the com­pe­ti­tion – es­pe­cially at the cheaper end of the mar­ket – had nowhere near the re­sources of Ap­ple and Google?

Well, who does have their re­sources? Google can prob­a­bly pay its $6.8bn fine by hav­ing a bit of a root down the back of its sofa, or crack­ing open the jar full of $100 notes that it keeps on the side ta­ble for pay­ing for pizza de­liv­ery.

It is a shame that all those in­ter­est­ing-shaped phones were lost along the way. We know from on­line traf­fic that there’s a ton of in­ter­est in read­ing about fold­ing phones, but that doesn’t mean any­one would buy them.

Google cre­at­ing and dis­tribut­ing An­droid for (sort of) free was like the in­ven­tion of the wheel. It changed the world. Some of the ways An­droid has changed the world are bad – you can put a wheel on an am­bu­lance or on a tank, af­ter all – but many are good.

Above all, they’re changes that are fun­da­men­tal and ir­re­versible. That’s why the EU fin­ing Google for what it sup­pos­edly did at An­droid’s birth feels so weird.

Google can pay its fine by crack­ing open the jar of $100 notes it keeps to pay for piz­zas

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