“We should be building great things that don’t exist. Not every new technology is zero-sum.”
But this was at the tail-end of Google’s keynote at the conference that introduced a ton of new products. The new products and services were terrific but the impression I had was that Google were fighting a war with many others on a number of fronts.
Let me just list the new assaults (if that is the right word) launched today:
- Developers Tools (vs Apple): Google enhanced the tools for developers of Android apps allowing things like Beta testing and detailed analytics that iOS developers have been begging for but never received.
- Google Play Game Services (vs Game Center): allowing developers to write games that can by properly synced across devices and allowing multi-player games across those devices (although the demo didn’t work at the time).
- Google Play Music (vs Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, Amazon and iTunes): Google launched a streaming music service that was very customisable for $9.99 per month.
- Google Hangouts (vs iMessage, Skype, Facebook): Google launched Hangouts as a multi-platform app that allowed sharing of text, photos and video chats. It is free and very slick with a focus on on-going conversations.
- Google Maps (vs Apple, Foursquare, Facebook): the idea is to create a personalised map but also one that can filter your friend’s recommendations — say, for restaurants. It is a reason to use Google+.
- Google+ Photos (vs iPhoto, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon): Google will sort through your photos, find the best ones and enhance them. It uses machine learning and looks really impressive. It solves a real problem people have with their photos.
- Contextual Search (vs Siri): Google are embedding contextual voice commands into search. It basically looks like Siri and it is tailored to people who have their Calendar, Contacts and Email on Google. It works like Siri is supposed to but for Chrome users it has the added advantage of working without pushing a button. This may be very significant but it will be hard to tell until we get a chance to use it.
- Educational apps (vs Apple and who knows who else): Google introduced a neat way of choosing and pushing educational apps for schools. If it works, it will be a money machine.
- Google Wallet (vs PayPal): Google is using a feature to make it easier to pay for things on mobile devices and also to send money to others through Gmail.
Basically, Google have taken their enormous computational prowess and finally matched it with Apple-like design sensibilities. For one, Google+ is starting to make more sense and is dealing with problems that are not solved by others. That they have done all this, company-wide, this year says alot for Larry Page’s leadership. But they have chosen to do one thing that isn’t consistent with the strategy playbook: they have not focussed. They are pushing on multiple fronts with competitors who are more focussed on those fronts. This is wonderful news for consumers but stepping back it is a really difficult challenge to sustain. But think about this: what happens if they do succeed and win many of those fronts? Google are behaving very well and innovating strongly. Will that continue should competitive pressure be relieved? I like what I’m seeing but history makes me a little nervous. That said, in a couple of weeks, Apple will be under enormous pressure to deliver. This is a critical strategic juncture for them too.