Remember when Facebook and Google used to have separate developer events? Yeah, so do I, even though it was way back in the yesteryear of 2012. 2013 is a brand new world, it seems, with Facebook set to kick off Google I/O with an Android developer show of their own.
It would be hard to deny that Mark Zuckerberg was telling the truth when he said Facebook would become a mobile-first company. What’s strange is the circuitous route they took to arrive at this point, embracing Android as a second “home” beyond the web.
Remember when Facebook and Microsoft were BFF’s with Bing and Windows Phone integration? The Bing deal is still in place, for all the good it’s done either of them, but Windows Phone is dead in the water. And Bing? Still a loss-leader and distant second place in the Search market.
With their Microsoft deal not working out too well, Facebook did what great companies like Microsoft and Google have done before them: they sidled up to Apple, dangling the competitive threat of Google before them like meat for a starving man. Apple bought into a deal which they believed would give them unique levels of integration with Facebook. They even ignored the conflict of Facebook’s partnership with Microsoft and went ahead with the idea.
iPhone 5 sales are nonetheless flat or declining despite the usual early adopter boost. iTunes, App Store, and Contacts integration has probably been great for Facebook, but hasn’t won Apple any kudos, especially because Android had enabled Facebook integration years earlier so in some ways it was playing catch-up.
Usually when a company like Facebook partners with Apple, they are later accused of stealing out the back door with Apple’s best ideas. Ironically, in this case, Facebook stole out the backdoor with Microsoft’s best ideas, allegedly. Instead of building their own OS, though, they used what they’d learned to build a launcher for Android, Facebook Home. Whatever else one might say about Android, there’s little doubt it is becoming a primary way for people to access Facebook, especially in developing markets.
So why did Facebook sample every other flavor before deciding they liked Android best? Because, simply, Google and Facebook are competitors. Every minute on Google is a minute not looking at Facebook ads, and vice versa. In the past the two companies have discussed a partnership, but it’s never gone anywhere. Any real hope of such a partnership on equitable terms ended with the launch of Google+.
It comes down to a problem of leverage. Both sides want the leverage, but Google’s dominant position in Search means Facebook has no leverage if they don’t withhold something. Imagine if Facebook didn’t use the rel=nofollow value, which inhibits Google’s ability to properly rank and index status updates. If you needed to find a specific status update, who would you go through to find it, Facebook’s primitive search system or Google Search?
Facebook’s sudden enthusiasm for Android indicates a shift in the leverage game. Google stands as Facebook’s gatekeeper, essentially, and can gradually bleed them dry if they don’t embrace the new platforms. More importantly, they’re the only major platform maker who can give them the leeway they need to experiment with things like Facebook Home. Android will continue to get the best of Google, but will it get the best of Facebook? If they have anything to say about it, it will, The same applies to Chrome OS, and even more so to Google Glass whenever it goes public.
Facebook can’t pretend to have the leverage anymore. Most of their profit last quarter was reinvested in mobile development. Will we see a Search deal between the two, like Facebook has with Bing? Only if Mark Zuckerberg decides they can’t go it alone. Such a deal would be the beginning of the end, though, as Google stands to gain more from it than Facebook. A mobile partnership, however, is already forming which stands to benefit both sides.