What makes him powerful: The sun never sets on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) mobile empire. Three years after the launch of its Android mobile operating system, the open-source platform now powers close to 45 percent of all U.S. smartphones, far ahead of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) rival iOS, according to research firm comScore. But Google's power and influence stretch far beyond Android--its applications and services are virtually synonymous with the mobile user experience across all major platforms.
With 2011 drawing to a close, Google powers about 91 percent of mobile search queries worldwide--the company also rakes in almost 97 percent of U.S. mobile search spending, according to data issued by banking and investment firm Macquarie Group. In addition, mobile subscribers now drive more than half of all Google Maps usage. And as of mid-year, Google's AdMob mobile advertising network spans across more than 80,000 mobile apps and websites, receiving in excess of 2.7 billion ad requests every day--in mid-October, Google revealed that its mobile ad revenue run rate is now $2.5 billion, up from $1 billion just one year ago.
This is the empire that Google co-founder Larry Page inherited when he once again assumed the CEO reins in April 2011, a full decade after handing off the gig to Eric Schmidt.
Page has so far proven to be a bold and unpredictable leader, killing off more than two dozen projects (including Slide, a social media apps unit acquired in mid-2010 for $200 million) and rolling out new initiatives including Google+, a fledgling social networking platform that boasts more than 40 million users after only four months.
Page's most daring and unexpected move was also one of the biggest mobile industry bombshells in recent memory: In mid-August, Google agreed to acquire Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) for roughly $12.5 billion. Google has vowed to operate Motorola Mobility as a separate business, and promises Android will remain open. In a blog post announcing the deal, Page stated Google and Motorola Mobility will collaborate to create "amazing user experiences that supercharge the entire Android ecosystem for the benefit of consumers, partners and developers everywhere," but also admits the deal is about bolstering the company's ongoing efforts to "protect Android from anti-competitive threats" by enhancing its patent portfolio.
Android's cloudy legal future is one of the biggest challenges facing Page as he settles into his new role. Google executives have publicly alleged Apple, Microsoft and Oracle are attempting to "strangle" Android by leveraging "bogus patents" that could drive up costs for devices running the OS.
Android also has emerged as a major focus of U.S. antitrust regulators' ongoing investigation into Google's operations. In August, The Wall Street Journal reported that six weeks after the Federal Trade Commission first served Google with broad subpoenas, FTC lawyers (in partnership with several state attorneys general) are now probing to determine whether Google is preventing its manufacturing partners from supporting competitors' digital services across Android-powered devices. FTC lawyers also are investigating how Android's increasing influence is boosting Google's dominance in web search services. (Google is the default search engine across the majority of Android products.) Google has steadfastly denied it is engaging in illegal or anti-competitive practices and suggests that federal inquiries into its business are the result of rival angst over its push into new market segments and technologies.
The complexities facing Android don't end in the courtroom. Fragmentation continues to hamper the ecosystem. Google has promised that the new Android 4.0 operating system overhaul (a.k.a. "Ice Cream Sandwich"), scheduled to begin rolling out on Nov. 17, will effectively reduce fragmentation.
Heading into 2012, Google's run atop the mobile hierarchy seems assured, however. New services including the Near Field Communications-based Google Wallet, the Google Offers local deals platform and a forthcoming digital music retail initiative will further ingratiate its brand into the mobile consumer consciousness. In addition, there are now more than 300 Android device models in all, manufactured by 36 OEMs and available across 215 operator networks spanning 112 countries--it's no wonder that research firm IDC forecasts Android will control more than 40 percent of the global smartphone market by the end of 2011 and reach 43.8 percent market share by 2015. In short, Google is the biggest player in mobile, and it's going to keep getting bigger--and as it grows, so too will Page's power and influence. --Jason