February 8, 2008 4:00 AM PST
Is mobile really a sure thing for Google?
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On Wednesday, a company called Bango, which facilitates billing for mobile-content owners, announced Bango Analytics, a tool that provides detailed data on mobile advertising campaigns.
"Google can tell an advertiser how many clicks they've gotten," said Martin Harris, senior vice president of sales for Bango. "But they can't say who or where the clicks are coming from. This makes it difficult to track and see how well an ad campaign is performing. Bango can provide the detailed information, because we've been working with carriers for seven years doing billing."
Google admits that not all of its services and applications work perfectly in the mobile environment. But the company believes that the market is still young, and it is working to improve its products.
"Broadly speaking, things that work on the Internet don't translate perfectly into mobile," said Dilip Venkatachari, a director of product management with Google's mobile team. "There are some issues. But we are very proud of the search and advertising experience we've created for mobile."
Venkatachari believes that Google is well positioned going forward because of its experience on the Web.
"The mobile channel is no different than any other channel that we work with," he said. "We can deliver a compelling user experience by bringing our core DNA and what we've done in the traditional online world and sharing that with mobile."
Moving slowly--but still dominant
In an effort to help bridge the gap between the mobile and desktop Internet experiences, Google is developing Android, a new open software platform for cell phones. The idea is that this new software platform will allow Google to more tightly integrate its applications in handsets and services. And should Google succeed in its bid on wireless spectrum, that spectrum could eventually be used to build networks that allow connectivity from any device.
But even these efforts are not going as smoothly as the company may have hoped. In November, Google released an early version of its Android software development kit. Some developers have complained that the software is overly buggy and not ready for prime time. Google said on its blog at the end of January that it had updated the software development kit based on developers' feedback. And it extended the deadline for its Android Developers Challenge to April 14 to give developers more time with the updated software. Google has set aside $10 million in prize money for developers who create programs for the new platform.
Android phones are expected to hit the market later this year, and some early prototypes will be on display at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
There have also been reports that Google is hitting technical snags in developing new mobile applications. Last summer, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google was developing a search tool to help consumers find and buy ringtones, games, and other mobile content. The company was supposedly in talks with large content owners, but so far no such service has been announced. Google declined to comment on these efforts, saying that it does not comment on rumors.
Google's critics say this is evidence that the company is vulnerable when it comes to mobile.
"Google is struggling in mobile at the moment," Bango's Harris said. "They are very desktop-centric. They understand the Internet better than most. And they've created this expectation that they can shift everything to mobile. But you can't just lift the technology from the Web and simply put it on a mobile device. It just doesn't work that way."
That said, Google still dominates in search and advertising both on the Web and on mobile. Consumers know the brand. And even when Google's search application isn't easily accessible from an operator's menu, consumers still find it.
"The threat that someone could outdo Google is there," said Divecha. "But how realistic the threat is is questionable. Google doesn't have a great search tool, but the problem is that nobody else does either. And for someone to overtake Google, the technology advancement will have to be more than just incremental."
CNET News.com's Elinor Mills contributed to this report.
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