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Google rejects H.264 in latest attempt to derail Apple

Google has been very clear about the way applications, particularly mobile ones, will go


Published: 13 January, 2011


Google has been very clear about the way applications, particularly mobile ones, will go. Downloads and siloed app stores will prevail for the period when connections remain slow and patchy, but as cellphones morph into always-on, portable PCs, our software will migrate to the browser, to web apps, streamed content and the cloud.

As the individual weight of walled-in platforms like App Store and its own Android Market is weakened by an inherently multi-OS approach, Google sees a significant shift in the software balance of power. But will the search giant inevitably reap the benefits? Its Chrome browser and Chrome OS are bold contenders, but have many rivals, and while advertising has dominated web profit models to date, Google’s stranglehold over other revenue sources such as in-app purchasing or social/location services is far less assured.

As the carriers, Amazon, Apple and Facebook all fight to monetize the new-look mobile web, Google has fired one of its boldest shots, but one that could throw a roadblock in the path of the open web standard which underpins the whole browser/cloud vision, HTML5.

Google has dropped support for the H.264 technology for video encoding in its Chrome browser, in an aggressive challenge to Apple and Microsoft in the battle to define the new web. It has increasingly focused on WebM, its own alternative to H.264, which it sees as proprietary (how can it be when it’s a standard with about 45 contributors), but has not previously dared to sideline it altogether. On its Chromium blog, product manager Mike Jazayeri wrote: “We are changing Chrome’s HTML5 video support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high quality open codecs in the future. Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies.”

This sets Google against Microsoft, which supports H.264 as the default video codec in its IE9 browser, and also Apple, which only supports H.264. Famously, Apple does not willingly support Adobe Flash, the main technology for browser-based video until HTML5 really takes hold. That could be happening more rapidly than expected though. Nokia and LG, among others, have made major commitments to HTML5 support in their new generation smartphones and AT&T recently announced a developer program, predicting that the majority of its high end handsets will support the technology in the second half of this year. It sees this as an opportunity to focus on multi OS apps strategies and escape the tyranny of the standalone stores (for which, read its dependence on Apple, whose chains are less silken now Verizon has got in on the act).

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