Could Google And Apple Take Identity From Facebook?

Could Google and Apple use their mobile platforms to become leaders in the online identity space?

When Eric Schmidt admitted this week that one of his biggest regrets was not acknowledging the Facebook threat, he didn’t say how his company plans on combating the threat this year. Would Google use the Android platform to compete with the social network?

Facebook is probably the most popular free application on both Apple IOS and Android devices, but there’s one problem: the social network doesn’t own the platforms.

I’ve been writing about this for a long time now. Last year, I argued that the Android platform could be used to damage Facebook. So far though, Android has only helped Facebook, providing more than 40 million monthly active users. With that much usage it would be hard to imagine Google pulling the rug out from under Facebook.

In fact, it would be damaging to the entire Android ecosystem. However, there’s definitely steps that Android could take to help developers with identity authentication, including that which Twitter’s founder, Evan Williams, suggests:

Why is it, when you install an app from the AppStore that requires an account, and you don’t already have an account on the service, you have to fill out a form and create one?

It seems like a dumb question, until you consider that this is not your computer. On your phone, you’re always already authenticated with your Apple or Google account. How long will it be until the iOS and Android SDKs offer developers one-touch authentication services?

The one missing component in Evan Williams’ theory is the social graph. It’s something that neither Apple or Google has, and it’s definitely not something that his former company, Twitter, has.

There’s another problem: It’s limited to mobile. This misses out on the massive “bored at work” user base which is browsing the web from desktop devices. Facebook also is now offering developers single sign-on on IOS and with Android. While I’m not sure if these authentication tools are explicitly supported by both Android and Apple, it has become fairly common use.

The reality is that Apple could provide some form of authentication service, and Android already does. The main thing is determining what value beyond authentication is being provided. Right now the value added by such services appears to be somewhat limited.