For years now I have been in awe of Google™. It is a monstrously large company with a market capitalization of 162 billion which, for a time, seemed to have innovation coded down to a science. Today, however, things seem to be changing for the enormous company and it makes me wonder about the health of the company and the outlook for its future.
Now, to be fair, Google™ has plenty of successes to point to. Google™ search is still the top search engine in the United States by some measure despite intense competition from Microsoft’s newest baby: Bing. Gmail, their web based mail service, is easily one of the finest email and webmail products since the introduction of the medium and the related value added services of Google™ Calendar, and Docs remain incredibly strong competition to industry standbys provided by Microsoft Exchange/Office and Hotmail. Android and Chrome have seen a great deal of excitement and some success in capturing market share, especially in the case of the mobile market with Android as recent numbers show.
But there are also significant projects that have failed, in some cases miserably, to meet expectations and these require a close look.
The first of these is Google Wave, one of the most hyped web technologies this decade, which failed to meet anything close to the expectation heaped on top of it by company leaders. While it was supposed to revolutionize communications it very simply did not, it ended up answering the question nobody asked as it combined the idea of real-time with the existing ideas of chat, collaborative documents and commenting. The design was clumsy, the case for use was vague and ultimately indiscernible, and the user interface left you feeling confused about what exactly you were doing here and all this has led to the service being largely abandoned. Despite enormous effort Google simply failed to deliver.
Another example of, albeit more subtle, failure was the introduction of the once all important “G-Phone” the Nexus One. As Google ratcheted up a brewing war against Apple Computer after a falling out between the two companies it invested itself for the first time in manufacturing a handset to rival the smartphone market leader: the iPhone. While the phone was indeed well reviewed upon its launch it has only been in the news recently because large carriers have dropped the device from their line (Sprint and Verizon have both canceled their plans to carry the device). While Android continues to do relatively well in the smartphone market it is quite clear that Google’s attempt to enter the handset market was simply half-assed and failed to deliver true innovation.
Coming down the road we have another large scale attempt from Google to show itself as a major hardware technology innovator with its coming tablet, allegedly being being developed with Verizon, hyped as an “iPad Killer.” I would hazard to guess at this point that this product will likely not come too close to killing the wildly popular new iPad for one clear reason: poor product development. Apple, a company that has exploded in the technology world with products like the iPod, iPhone and now the iPad, has made a science out of creating highly functional and appealing products that meet or exceed incredibly high levels of hype. Google has shown that, while it may be a major hardware player one day, its product development process is far from that of the leading company and it seems to lack a certain level of innovative creativity keeping their products from reaching that soaring plateau Apple live upon.
Whether Google will overcome what, I believe, is an innovation block akin to writers block is yet to be seen. It seems clear however that Google can be beat and likely will be consistently unless something within the company changes.