Skobbler Blames Google for GPS Navigation App Failure

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Have you heard of Skobbler? It’s a GPS navigation app designed to turn cell phones and tablets into fully functional GPS devices. Skobbler can be found on Apple’s app store and, up until February, could be found on the Android market. Skobbler pulled the plug on its Android GPS navigating venture, citing, essentially, that free apps were killing the paid competition. Skobbler has chosen to focus on Apple moving forward. The debate highlights the ubiquity of GPS tracking on Android phones, and the new laws of economics as rewritten by both Apple and Google.

Android vs. iOS
The Android vs. iOS debate boils down to one argument: open source vs. otherwise. Apple keeps a very tight lid on its app store. This prevents not only piracy, but enables the business to do some very subtle, in some cases, “price fixing.” The Android Market is largely hands off. A number of free apps exist for users to perform tasks, like GPS navigation, comparable in some cases to their larger cousins. The iPhone does not feature pre-installed GPS navigation. Most Android phones do. Hence, there is a largely  perceived lack of need for a $0.99 GPS navigation app.

The Piracy Problem

Skobbler mentioned that piracy has been a problem in the Android marketplace, undercutting the profits of the GPS navigation enterprise. Android users are sometimes able to download *.apk files for free. The result, according to Skobbler, is that users are utilizing illegal copies of paid software to use their phones as GPS navigators.

The Open Source Problem
Whether or not you believe Google is the problem or believe Skobbler’s statement is a case of poor craftsmen blaming their tools, the company’s statement highlights issues that may be prevalent in relation to GPS navigation on Android phones. The navigation on an Android is dependent on two elements: the hardware and the software. Android phones are not dedicated GPS devices. They have better things to do: make phone calls, send text messages, surf the Internet, play Angry Birds, etc. A dedicated GPS tracking device is typically better than the GPS on an Android phone. The software problem is more tricky. While most Android phones with GPS trackers typically come with proprietary software, that software can be different across the board, facilitating inconsistent quality of GPS tracking.

Google’s open source Android experiment will very likely not change because of Skobbler. The Android Market and Apples App Store will probably remain illustrations of highly contrasting approaches to computing salesmanship for years to come. The power of GPS as both a monetizing tool and practical tool for smart phone users remains up in the air as well.

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John Chapman

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