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Android, Google, and Frenemies

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In its quest to kill Apple, has Google inadvertently empowered its rivals-and created new ones?

We know that Google has created a monster in Samsung. Giving away Android has certainly hurt Apple, but what are the other consequences of the move? Amazon has benefited: Kindle runs on a forked version of Android. Now add in Facebook Home. I'm wondering if Larry Page now thinks Android is too open?

The notions of coopetition and frenemies are as involved and nuanced as ever. Nowhere is this more evident than how Android is playing out. The following text is excerpted from The Age of the Platform.

Frenemies and Coopetition

"The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends."

--Friedrich Nietzsche

The tendency for the Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (aka, the Gang of Four) to collide with one another shouldn't surprise anyone. These battles bring to mind two relatively new terms. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a frenemy as "one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy." Also, the term coopetition has recently entered the business vernacular--a word that describes concurrent cooperation and competition.

Both labels are completely apropos in understanding the rela­tionships among Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Like five-year-olds in a sandbox, they sometimes play nicely together, but aren't above knocking over each other's sandcastles. That is, companies that have built powerful platforms and planks do not always see eye-to-eye.

Platform companies have to walk a fine line. On the one hand, each company wants to steal users and customers from other platforms to switch to theirs. On the other, each doesn't want to be known for being aggressive, greedy, and restrictive.

Let's look at a few examples. Apple allows its customers to read books on their iPhones and iPads via Amazon's Kindle app. Apple does not force its customers to buy the same books again in Apple's iBook format. For its part, Facebook makes it very easy for users to find individual friends with a few clicks, or friends en masse via importing Yahoo!, Gmail, and Hotmail email addresses.

But the opposite isn't true. Facebook does not reciprocate with these other services--unless they are partners. As Ryan Singel of Wired writes, "If you are also a Twitter or Buzz user and want to find out which of your Facebook friends were also using those ser­vices, Facebook will not let you."

Perhaps a better metaphor is the game Risk, in which players form temporary alliances, only to turn on one another when they have the ability to conquer a continent.