EU Request for Google Mobile Changes May Go to Heart of Jelly Bean Innovations

One of the chief innovations Google is bringing to its "Jelly Bean" Android update involves local search and related functionality through Google Now. I've written fairly extensively already about these new features on my Screenwerk blog and Search Engine Land. In short, the new Android OS offers information "cards" (structured data) in response to a range of query types, especially local.

This is at once an evolution of the Google search experience for mobile devices and an effort to better compete with Apple's Siri. The information (search result) is more attractively presented and substitutes for the traditional page of search results, which still can be found by scrolling to the bottom. In addition to the image above right, below are a few example screenshots:

 Screen shot 2012-07-24 at 6.36.06 AM

This new presentation is more consistent with what mobile users want ("answers") and offers a better experience overall than a conventional page of "blue links." The potential problem for Google is that this approach goes much further in the direction of substituting "Google's own content" for third party information, which is at the center of Europe's antitrust dispute with Google.

The issue of of Google showing its "own content" at the top of search results or in a preferential position is one of four "concerns" raised by the EU in May along with an invitation to settle. Because it goes to the heart of Google's control over the search results page and the company's ability to experiment and innovate with new content presentations, it's one of the most potentially challenging issues for Google to negotiate with the EU. 

Google has been trying to avoid a formal antitrust action by European regulators. But just as it was negotiating to settle the case, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, last week, asked Google to make "broad changes" to its mobile services. While it's not clear specifically what he is asking for, the path adopted by Jelly Bean -- which completely marginalizes third party content in a range of cases -- exacerbates one of the EU's fundamental "concerns" about Google.

Google is not going to want to be locked into any specific search results page in mobile. It will demand the ability to change the look and feel of the page and to innovate around the way it presents content. But to the extent any such innovations don't involve equal exposure of third party information the Europeans will probably have strong objections.

The next couple of weeks should determine whether Google will be able to negotiate a settlement or whether the company will face a formal antitrust action (and potentially billions in fines) from the EU.