Google’s not as easy to describe as other tech giants. Apple makes sleek consumer gadgets, Facebook is a social media platform, and Amazon delivers basically anything you want to your front door. Yes, these companies are all doing other things now, due to the potential of burgeoning industries, increasing competition and the relentless ambition of people like Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. But I think it’s safe to say that most people understand and can describe these core businesses without much thought.
When it comes to Google, it’s a little more difficult to immediately encompass what the company does. It’s best known as a search engine, but most people use it for much more than that: Gmail, Android operating systems, and the newly rebranded G Suite (aka Google apps like Docs and Forms). Google also has hardware – Chromebooks, Nexus phones, Chromecasts, etc. (The list doesn’t really go on, but it’s not short either.) And yet Google has lagged behind other companies when it comes to releasing consumer products that exude that “wow” factor that companies like Apple and Amazon have successfully been able to produce.
Obviously, Google’s competitors aren’t perfect either. Apple has been popular for years but everyone knows about the recent chatter that its iPhones aren’t as innovative as they used to be. As for Amazon, remember the Fire Phone? Exactly, neither does anyone else. It’s safe to say that both companies have had some trip ups and flops.
But Amazon has had great success with the hit Kindle e-reader, and last year released the much applauded Amazon Echo, an artificially intelligent, voice-powered personal assistant device. Suddenly, Google found itself trailing behind in one of the hottest areas in tech today. But tomorrow, it’s slated to release Home, the competitor to Echo, at an event in San Francisco. Obviously, it’s better late than never.
Why hasn’t Google churned out more hit products? The company is known for its intense and secret labs where engineers and visionaries work on dozens of initiatives at a time, including “moonshots.” Google Glass was all the hype a few years ago, until the project was shuttered after numerous issues, including widespread public concerns over privacy and legality. Google was also one of the earliest companies to develop automated driving technology, but hasn’t yet produced concrete results from its endeavor. Now Uber has already begun road-testing autonomous cars in Pittsburg, even though the start-up was only founded seven years ago.
Google also bought Nest Labs in 2014, seemingly getting into the internet-of-things home device market. And even with this acquisition, there was no clear realization by those at Google to create a standalone personal assistant gadget.
According to reports, the internal system that Google operates within is not conducive to breakthroughs – departments often don’t interact, and good ideas fall through the cracks. It also pursues too many ideas at once, resulting in a “lack of focus.”
Does it matter that Google isn’t great at hardware? Maybe they don’t need to be – they’ve designed a bunch of apps that work great on iPhones, and are aiming to make Google Assistant, the conversation driven, virtual personal assistant, a “connective tissue” for all your devices. As David Pierce from Wired writes, “Google’s product isn’t the phone, it’s what you do with the phone.” In many ways Google’s business model has proven this to be true. Android phones are still the most widely used smartphone in the world, equipped with Google’s OS and probably several key apps (Gmail, Chrome Browser, etc.). This applies to computers as well – regardless of whether you use a Mac or PC, Google reigns supreme in search, email, web browser.
And perhaps it’s not too late for Google to “catch up” to Amazon, in terms of hardware. In fact, maybe “catching up” isn’t even the correct term. Sure, Amazon Echo has rave reviews and was the first stand-alone AI product to hit the market. But despite its hype and 24/7 news coverage, AI is still a fairly new technology, and not many have adopted it for daily use yet. I don’t know anyone who actually owns an Echo. I don’t even know many people who regularly use Google Voice or Siri – old fashioned typing is by far still the preferred method. Because of this, Google may still be able to win over the market, if the Home proves to be a viable competitor to Echo and all of its strengths.
But Echo is quite a device, with most of its intelligence stored in the cloud, thanks to the power of Amazon Web Services. It’s also being incorporated as an app for GE Appliances, allowing people to operate an with some simple commands. Pretty impressive, but it’s possible that Google has something better.
But who really knows what will happen in the unpredictable world of tech? At the Google event tomorrow (Oct. 4), the world will know what Google has been cooking up in secrecy for the past number of months.