Visionary adieu – how Google is becoming Microsoft 2.0

Grafik:Carlos Luna
Graphic:Carlos Luna
What the operating system is for Microsoft, is the search engine for Google. But the concentration on a single focus brings its dangers. Bill Gates could have certainly have sung a song about it. I had that feeling that Google is slowly losing the “we can do everything!” status even before Google Helpouts was closed down. The concentration on search engine business seems to have been eliminating all innovation in other areas for years. Many ideas are approached half-heartedly and eventually dropped.

Is this misleading or is Google on their way to becoming a Microsoft 2.0? – Once trailblazers, now quiet observers with a focus on their core business. Comparison with the competition is obvious, for instance, Amazon or Facebook. Fire, Kindle, Echo – hardware from Amazon or soon the VR glasses Oculus Rift with a Facebook brand? It is not just the products and service, but the way they are handled before the financial breakthrough which makes Google different from the current competition.

Video consultation is hip!

With the closer of Google Helpouts, they are once again giving up on something which without much love was, surprise surprise, not a success. The service was started in November 2013 and will be shut down in April. The reason? User numbers didn’t grow as quickly as desired.

» Google: The Helpouts community includes some engaged and loyal contributors, but unfortunately, it hasn’t grown at the pace we had expected. «

Ironic, because personal consultation via the internet is just picking up speed. According to a current TNS Intratest study, more than 50 percent of all users want a Skype consultation with their insurance provider. Curated shopping providers like Kisura also show that the direct connection to customers via video calling is certainly being used. Anyway, at least Google can still fall back on YouTube. The selection of how-to and tutorial videos here is pretty much unlimited. But the videos on YouTube can’t connect to the individual customer directly like Helpouts could. Google has missed a viable future chance here because it didn’t become the golden goose fast enough.

Who remembers Google Wave?

It wouldn’t be that bad, if it has been the first project that Google pushed with little enthusiasm. As an innocent young high school student, 2009 and 2010 I followed one Google project above all others: Google Wave. After all, the service promised to be no less than a revolution in event and meetup planning. You started a Wave to which you could attach all sorts of things, like a Maps locations, various data, Wiki articles or emails. Google Drive meets social media – that’s how it was described in retrospect.

Google Wave aus dem Jahr 2009
Google Wave from 2009

Facebook may have already had 305 million members in 2009, but social media was still just a hype topic and hardly anchored in the mainstream. The opinion in my circle of friends was that Facebook would disappear like the VZ networks – very wrong. Even the idea of saving our data in a cloud on the internet was suspect for most people, but is the norm these days. Back then in 2010 Google Wave failed because of a lack of users – Déjà-vu?

Google isn’t a start-up anymore

So why the lack of enthusiasm? Internally, Google may seem to work like a start-up, as surveys on the world’s best employers or the unofficial webfilm “The Internship” show. But their strategy has very little to do with a start-up. What doesn’t work-out with the first try is dumped. Other companies are more willing to take a risk. The best example is the Fire Phone from Amazon: The smartphone’s flop was put down to Jeff Bezos’ dreams of greatness. But isn’t it exactly this hubris which drives new ideas forward?

Google+ is the only project at the moment which Google still hasn’t given up on, even though it hasn’t made headway against the direct competitors Facebook, Twitter and Co. Although the social network was never actually an innovative idea, being started as a late reaction in 2011.

» TechCrunch:We’ve heard Google has not yet decided what to do with the teams not going to Android, and that Google+ is not “officially” dead, more like walking dead. «

Nest, Ara, and Glass

In my opinion, the continuation of other projects, like Wave or Helpouts, would have been desirable. And when it comes to the technology of tomorrow, there are a few projects which Google should definitely continue. For me, one of these is Nest: The smart home solution will probably compete with Amazon’s Echo for controlling room temperature and stereo systems.

Das Smartphone der Zukunft?
Das Smartphone der Zukunft?
Or the Ara project which allows smartphones to be tailored to your wish via different modules. And there’s Google Glass, whose end of the beta phase was interpreted as the end of the project by some. At least the search engine giant seems to be secure in the hardware areas, with what most people will want in the future: Nest, Ara, Glass, self-driving cars, Chromebooks – the list is long and it remains to be seen what will make it and what Google scraps again.

Dependent on the next big thing

With this article, I don’t want to deny that Google is in the black despite various losses. But there is a parallel to Microsoft, which gloriously slept through the smartphone/tablet trend for instance, and is now trying to catch up hopelessly, Surface notwithstanding. The future of Google (and with that I mean their place as visionaries) could depend on the next big thing. It is well known that there is a wide selection: virtual/augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, internet of things. Google is active in all the areas – of course.

In e-commerce, I see virtual reality as something which could significantly change shopping behaviour.

Google is trying to get into the game here, but apart from a cardboard version, the announcement of AndroidVR and a possible collaboration with Mattel, Google hasn’t been able to produce a convincing product. This is a very different story to the devices from Facebook (Occulus Rift), Sony (Project Morpheus) or Valve/HTC (Steam VR and HTC Vive), whose release appears to be imminent – at least Valve has promised a launch this year.

Google, think big!

Projects in the area of virtual reality being scrapped seems unlikely given the public’s interest in the topic. But what happens after that?

Does Google literally already have the services of the future, publishes them, doesn’t get enough attention and then takes it all back? It would be a shame, as you just expect more fervour for new projects.

» Martin Groß-Albenhausen: Martin Groß-Albenhausen: Great, detailed ideas; but there is a lack of enthusiasm for their own projects away from the increasingly milked search engine. Or a lack of ability for developing them like start-ups. «

Amazon once again shows how it done: Fire Phone Flop, who cares? The online trader wants to continue creating their own smartphone. They’ve made enough mistakes to learn from. Google mostly stops before the mistakes happen, even though the company would have the opportunity to take a risk for one – and with this, I don’t necessarily mean building a new thunder dome.

Konzept eines neuen Hauptgebäudes
Concept for the new HQ

Facebook, Amazon, and Google are companies which actively shape the future. Back in the day, you could also happily count Microsoft in. But after sleeping through numerous trends, the Gates company has fallen behind. A start-up attitude is really important, even in companies the size Google use to be. If the search engine company isn’t careful, it could soon belong to the forgotten visionaries and become a Microsoft 2.0.

I would like to see Google pull-through with something in the future again, and not just find a name for new Android versions. Creative names for operating systems – at least that is one thing Google has over Microsoft.

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