Google-Microsoft feud over YouTube app escalates to 'death blow'

After Google blocks Windows Phone app, Microsoft's top antitrust lawyer says rival is making up excuses

Microsoft condemned Google's decision to block the new Windows Phone YouTube app, accusing its rival of making excuses to keep the app from connecting to the popular social video service.

Microsoft on Thursday condemned Google's decision to block the new Windows Phone YouTube app, accusing its rival of making excuses to keep the app from connecting to the popular social video service.

"We think it's clear that Google just doesn't want Windows Phone users to have the same experience as Android and Apple users, and that their objections are nothing other than excuses," said David Howard a deputy general counsel, in a blog post on Microsoft's website.

Microsoft launched a revised YouTube app for Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Phone 8 on Tuesday. Early Thursday, Google began blocking the app from accessing YouTube.

"Google's going for the death blow," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "For Google, in the grand scheme, Windows Phone is a nit. But they're still trying to block the success of Windows Phone."

It's possible Microsoft may retaliate with a lawsuit, Moorhead added.

Although Android is the world's most popular mobile operating system, Windows Phone has been making strides. According to research firm Gartner, 7.4 million Windows Phone smartphones were sold in the quarter that ended June 30, up 83% from the same period a year ago, for a 3.3% share of the global smartphone market.

Android accounted for 79% of sales, while Apple's iOS share stood at 14.2%, down from last year's 18.8%. But Apple sold more than four times the number of iPhones than Microsoft's partners sold Windows phones.

Google can afford to block Windows Phone because of those numbers, Moorhead said. Microsoft needs YouTube on its smartphones far more than Google needs the relatively small number of users armed with a Windows phone. "YouTube is the standard for social video, it's a top 10 app that every phone and device has to have access to," he said.

Thursday's spat was not the first between the two technology giants over YouTube.

In early May, Microsoft launched an earlier version of the app -- like the newest, created by Microsoft's own developers -- but within days Google issued a cease-and-desist order that demanded Microsoft pull the app from the Windows Phone Store. Google cited violations of the YouTube and YouTube API terms of service, including preventing the display of advertisements -- the way YouTube reaps revenue -- allowing video downloads and playing videos that partners have blocked on certain mobile devices.

A week later, Microsoft complied and the two companies issued a joint statement saying that they would collaborate on an app that abided by the video site's terms of service.

The assumption Tuesday was that the new YouTube app was the result of that collaboration.

In a statement, Google acknowledged that it had worked with Microsoft on the app, but claimed that Microsoft had "not made the browser upgrades necessary to enable a fully-featured YouTube experience, and has instead re-released a YouTube app that violates our Terms of Service." In response, Google blocked the app's ability to access YouTube, an immediate, and much more draconian, maneuver compared to the cease-and-desist demand in May.

"We value our broad developer community and therefore ask everyone to adhere to the same guidelines," Google added.

But Howard countered, saying that was not what Google had done. Instead, he slammed Google for playing favorites, arguing that Microsoft's app was no different from those sanctioned by Google for Apple's iOS -- which powers the iPhone and iPad -- or Google's own Android app.

"Google's objections to our app are not only inconsistent with Google's own commitment of openness, but also involve requirements for a Windows Phone app that it doesn't impose on its own platform or Apple's," Howard said.

The question of "openness" has come up before between Google and Microsoft.

In May at Google I/O, the company's developer conference, CEO Larry Page called out Microsoft for not reciprocating on API access and attacked "people milking off one company for their own benefit" as he referred to Microsoft's blocking others' ability to integrate with Skype.

"We certainly struggle with people like Microsoft," Page said.

For its part, Microsoft has long complained that Google won't give it the same metadata from YouTube that the Mountain View, Calif., company gives Apple and its iOS mobile operating system.

The antagonism runs deeper than YouTube, as the two compete in numerous key areas, including search, operating systems, business productivity software, and tablet and smartphone apps.

Microsoft hasn't been above the fray. It has repeatedly hammered Google practices in its months-long "Scroogled" campaign, most recently last week when an attack ad took aim at Gmail again.

But the YouTube blocking was a major escalation of the war between the two, Moorhead said.

"Larry's rant at Google I/O made him come off as a white knight," who was simply proposing reasonable open standards, Moorhead said. "But this makes that stance seem unbelievable."

Howard's blog post read like a legal complaint, with point-by-point refutations of Google's objections to the Windows Phone YouTube app. That wasn't lost on Moorhead, who noted the post was written by one of Microsoft's legal team.

In fact, Howard is head of the litigation and antitrust group, and as a deputy counsel, reports directly to Brad Smith, Microsoft's head lawyer.

Moorhead said Microsoft was signaling that it may take Google to court over the issue, perhaps using an antitrust angle. "Microsoft has a big point here," he said.

"It seems to us that Google's reasons for blocking our app are manufactured so that we can't give our users the same experience Android and iPhone users are getting," Howard said. "The roadblocks Google has set up are impossible to overcome, and they know it."

This article, Google-Microsoft feud over YouTube app escalates to 'death blow', was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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This story, "Google-Microsoft feud over YouTube app escalates to 'death blow'" was originally published by Computerworld.

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