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Summary:

Google celebrated day one of Google I/O 2012 conference with a slew of new products and more announcements. Stand back a little and you start to see a company has pitch battles on its hand on many fronts, despite being strong on search, advertising and android.

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June, it seems, is the season for new product announcements in Silicon Valley. At its annual WWDC shindig,  Apple announced a slew of new products including its hot-new Macbook Pro with Retina display and iOS 6. A few days later, Microsoft announced Surface, a new tablet/computer that has been designed by Microsoft team and will be sold under the Microsoft brand in Microsoft stores.

And this week it seems it is Google’s turn. So far, it has announced massive upgrades to its search platform, the newest version of Android (Jellybean)the Google Glass, the Nexus 7 tablet and a new multimedia device, Nexus Q. It is also likely to introduce a new cloud offering at its Google I/O event, as I reported earlier.

However, when you stand back from all the announcements made by Google today and increase the periphery, you start to notice that this is a company that is fighting a lot of battles on many fronts. In some places it is winning, but most places it is trench warfare.

It is still the king of search and advertising. It is doing quite well when it comes to Android, though they never really talk about its real financial impact on Google’s business. I would argue that Google Apps and Google Chrome OS have a decent shot of carving out a meaningful role inside corporations, retailers, airlines and campuses. Google Maps is a market leader and well, there is nothing like YouTube – though the monetary impact of the video colossus is still kept under a fog by Google. However, this is where the list of sure things end. Simply take a look at this list of what I believe are important battles Google is fighting, and you begin to understand the challenges that Google faces.

Apple

  • Google’s Android is fighting with Apple’s iOS platform. It says a million new devices are being activated every day and there are 400 million Android devices out there.
  • Google just launched Nexus 7 to essentially compete with Apple’s iPad and other tablets in the market.
  • Google TV and Apple TV are in competition for the dollars and attention of connected-entertainment consumers.
  • Google Drive vs iCloud.
  • Google Maps versus Apple Maps.
  • Google Wallet/Play versus the Apple iTunes platform.
  • Google Books, Google Music and other Media versus iTunes and iBooks.

Microsoft

  • Google’s Chrome OS is taking on Microsoft’s OS.
  • Google Apps versus Microsoft Office Apps.
  • Google Android versus Microsoft Windows 8 platform.
  • Google Nexus 7 tablet versus Microsoft Surface tablet.
  • Google Cloud will be competing for Microsoft’s Azure cloud and developer affections.
  • Google Drive versus Microsoft Skydrive.
  • Google Search versus Microsoft Bing.

Amazon

  • Google Nexus 7 versus Amazon’s Kindle Fire.
  • Google Android platform versus the Amazon Fork.
  • Google Cloud wants to challenge Amazon Web Services.
  • Google Wallet versus Amazon payment system.
  • Google Books, Google Music and other media plays versus Amazon Music, Books and Media

Facebook

  • Google+ versus Facebook.
  • Google messaging versus Facebook Messaging.
  • Google Picasa versus Facebook Photos.
  • Google Ad Platform versus Facebook Ad Platform.
  • Google Search versus Facebook Social Discovery.

And there are some other companies Google is tussling with.

  • Google Drive versus DropBox as a hub of mobile data and apps.
  • Google Nexus Q versus Sonos.
  • Google Local versus Yelp.
  • Google Wallet versus Paypal, Square.
  • Google Search versus Twitter.
  • Google+ versus Twitter.
  • Google’s YouTube versus others such as Hulu.

The human cost of these battles

When I see Google fighting those battles, I can’t help but recall those history lessons. Rome, Napoleon and his Napoleonic wars, the Ottoman empire – they all took on challenges on multiple fronts and eventually lost. The human costs proved to be too much. Google too faces a similar dilemma. Admittedly, it has all the money in the world, but despite tens of thousands of employees, it lacks the star power to win on all fronts. Google no longer has a monopoly on attracting great talent to its team.

Bret Taylor, outgoing CTO of Facebook & ex-Googler

Google today has to keep buying companies to attract talent, but frankly that may not be enough. There are rivals who offer more attractive options to the Bret Taylors (ex-Google Maps & then CTO, Facebook) of the world. Why work at Google Wallet when you can get a gig at Square? Why stay at Google when Facebook beckons? Why be a product manager when you can start Instagram and cash out for a cool billion?

Having followed Google from its very inception, I know that Google’s product and experience was far superior to its competitors, many of who were essentially weakly run companies that were hobbled by the dot-com bust. Yahoo, despite its size, wasn’t really a great competitor for Google’s search technology and was too plodding in its embrace of search-based advertising.

Microsoft, too, was focused on its software businesses to actually put up a good fight in the marketplace. The second decade of the 21st century is proving to be a much tougher place for Google. The new rivals — everyone from Apple and Facebook to upstarts like Dropbox and Square — are more more fierce, more focused and more hungry.  The attitude of me-too-ism isn’t enough for Google.

As Google tries to expand into new territories it is leaving its core search vulnerable — not to another rival’s technology, but to end-users. The injection of Google+ into search results seems to be a growing point of dissatisfaction.

In my years of following the company, I came to understand that what separated Google from many of its competitors was its audacity. When search was supposed to be a dead-end, they did one better. When advertising was mired in morass, they took an existing idea of text ads and turned it into mega-billion dollar empire. The scale of Google’s infrastructure and belief that software was indeed going to be the intelligence inside a company were concepts that were inherently futuristic and ambitious. Google Mail and Google Maps are two other projects that started small but proved to have that special Google quality.

When I look at the first day of Google I/O, I am left impressed by Google Glass. The product itself is too nerdy and it still has ways to go before it becomes an everyday product. Nevertheless, it represents a bit of old Google. It represents the kind of things the company needs to do in order to leap forward of its rivals.

  1. Nikhil Deshmukh Wednesday, June 27, 2012

    Om, did you mean Google Glass (not Goggles)?

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    1. I did. Sorry…. it has been a long long day.

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  2. I think it’s not appropriate to compare “Google battle” with “Rome, Napoleon and his Napoleonic wars, the Ottoman empire”. They’re using different technology and it’s happening completely in a different space, though we cannot neglect the human workforce. I hope Google will win all the battle. There’re millions of people in the world who loves Google.

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    1. Sorry that you missed the analogy of resource constraints – oh well!

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      1. Oops, already got that analogy.

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      2. Peadar Ó Guilín Thursday, June 28, 2012

        Surely their main competitors are all involved in a matching set of battles on a similar number of fronts?

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  3. it looks much like the famous Mahabharat scene where ABHIMANYU got trapped in CHAKARVIYU and fight with hundreds of warriors alone………hope this time google win LOL!! :)

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  4. I agree that they’re fighting too much of the me-too battle. Glasses and self-driving cars are what I want to think about when I think of Google.

    Thanks for the post!

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    1. my pleasure and thanks for your kind words.

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  5. Om, Correct your info. Google Goggles is app, Google Glass is the new gadget they introduced.

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    1. Thanks Vikram. I did fix that. I guess, this whole name stuff is confusing at time.

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      1. Om, any particular reason to have the first 2 letters of the word Glass in a different color than the remaining 3 (see para 2) ? Guess Google would like that product to kick ass, but that’s not the motivation for the typography, is it ? :-)

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      2. Eventually Google will put Goggles App on Project Glass

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  6. Internet is just like graveyard without Google!!

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    1. Wow. I have no idea what you just said, but it did seem pretty cool. Can you elaborate?

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      1. I think the comment translates into: the internet would be useless without Google. Sorta like trying to navigate the streets of NYC, for the first time, without a map or guide: You wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the entire landscape.

        However there are other alternatives to Google so the statement is a little overblown.

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  7. Srini Kommoori Wednesday, June 27, 2012

    One thing is definite: everyone is trying to eat away other people’s market. We can argue same way with Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. Effects of technology getting commoditized.

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    1. I was also thinking of that. I’m reminded of the Amazon vs The World infographic: http://cdn.cpcstrategy.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/AmazonInfographic.png

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  8. John Proffitt Thursday, June 28, 2012

    I guess my question about Google today is, “What’s your mission?” Is it still to “organize the world’s information” or some version of that? If not, what is it? Is there a unifying vision or mission or message for the organization?

    It seems like the unifying vision now is “we want you to access the world through our tools so we can profile you and sell you to advertisers (and worse) for money.” A more positive version of that might be, “we make experiencing the Internet great” but I think empirically they haven’t gotten there, which would explain the multi-front battle (that’s likely to fail for purely human/organizational capacity reasons).

    I want to see a few Google products continue to improve — Search, Apps, Chrome OS — but the rest strike me as better collaborative zones for Google rather than competitive zones. Just imagine what Apple and Google could have done together, with better and better integration, pulling Apple design into Google engineering. Instead, Google went into competition via chasing. What about Facebook and Google coordinating? That would be powerful as well. But nope, that’s a battleground, too.

    Oh well, here we are. It’ll be interesting to watch.

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    1. Able Lawrence Thursday, June 28, 2012

      For that apple and Facebook also would want to share and collaborate on terms acceptable to Google and public. So blame them and not Google

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  9. I don’t quite agree with your analogy since these are not a winner takes all kind of wars. The market is big enough to allow at least these major players to exist. Also, In many cases, Google was forced to make a product to protect it’s search and ad business in the long term. I don’t think they would have launched Google+ if Facebook didn’t have the potential to eat some of it’s lunch. They couldn’t just let Apple walk away with the smartphone market and put their survival in their hands when it’s so easy to change the default search and maps applications as Apple has recently demonstrated with Siri and their own maps.

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    1. Market allows only one winner that takes most, and 10% for loser. Ecosystem Wars aren’t finished yet. It is again: Amiga, Macintosh, PC. Leapfrogging each other. Google has to port its apps to Glasses, while Metro tiles are Fortaleza ready.

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      1. Shameer Mulji Thursday, June 28, 2012

        I disagree. Although this obviously happened in the traditional PC space, that market was no more than a billion strong. The new mobile device (or Post-PC) space is much larger, at least three times that, if not larger. The market can definitely sustain at least three major successful platforms.

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    2. Anonymous Coward Monday, July 23, 2012

      Facebook & Apple: not quite. Google+, like many a project at Google (gmail is another example) came out of two things: many googlers being frustrated with facebook lacking some features they dearly wanted, and a need to unite several products at Google with which Google users interacted separately – this provided a bad user experience. The Moto/tablet stuff, IMO, is similarly a result of things not particularly related to Apple. Google simply needed a pool of patents to be able to protect itself in patent wars, and Moto proved to be a good opportunity to also help Google in its hardware experiments on the consumer side – like Glass, whatever Nexus-like they’ll do in the future etc.

      So you see, I wouldn’t say that opening several fronts was always just a defensive move. IMO, it’s more like those fronts appearing as a natural cause of moves on Google’s side which were determined by mostly reasons not related to the resulting battle.

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  10. Google is the king of the web. Nobody can compete with Google’s web apps, web-access OS in Android and Chrome OS, Google is the best at connecting all the worlds businesses with users of the web, which is the definition of being the best at online ads. Ergo, Google has already won all those battles you talk about. There is no hope for Apple, Microsoft, Facebook unless they can somehow do something worthwhile in the web space, which is very unlikely. Betting against the web is a failing strategy. And guys like Bret Taylor just went to Facebook to make a hundred million dollars after the IPO. Google doesn’t need to compete with certain of their star engineers being tempted by becoming multi-millionnaires for doing no work. Like Bret Taylor and the Google Wave guys going to Facebook, they didn’t actually have to do anything at Facebook to each make a big mountain of tens of millions of dollars after the IPO. Facebook is worthless yet hugely overvalued, that many people are going to loose billions of dollars on facebook stock isn’t Google’s problem.

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    1. I look at it differently …

      Silicon Valley titans Apple, Facebook and Google have recently revealed the first part of an operational business shift. Declining growth rates, reduced social networking engagement and receding confidence from Wall Street and global brands like GM have led these companies to rethink their ‘walled garden’ approach. The Big 3 can no longer continue to solely focus on honing their existing products and competencies in order to monetize their offerings, specifically in the arena of mobile.

      Recent product introductions and acquisitions reflect a shift to a ‘city state’ model: a brand-contained mobile monetization chain where all components are either developed or acquired by the brand, or resources are shared with as few partners as possible. For consumers, this approach solidifies brand preference by offering more seamless search-and-sale experiences. For Apple, Facebook and Google, vertical integration facilitates greater engineering alignment and compatibility, veils intellectual property of code and cell phone design, and protects the relationship data derived from countless search-and-sales executions.

      Solvency aside, the long-term benefits to becoming the dominant monetization path includes staving off Amazon’s march against online and brick-and-mortar retailers, and potential and continued partnerships with Microsoft. Sure to create a wider schism in the iOS-Android debate, the city state model requires securing three categories of products: Profiles, Positioning & Payment.

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      1. as far as apple is concerned, what declining growth? their walled garden approach to hardware & software has made them the largest company in the world and the most profitable in the industry.

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    2. the web is becoming siloed because of apps ! web slowly becomes b2b and apps become b2c ! also text search is dying and audio search is finally becoming mainstream – watchout for siri and audible [which do not use google]

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      1. Shameer Mulji Thursday, June 28, 2012

        You can also add the newly announced Google Now to that list.

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      2. Do you have any stats you can share that show voice search is eating into text search’s queries? I have a hard time buying that considering the amount of searches that are of a “private” (read: porn) nature.

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      3. I think that this is where Google’s traditional search/advertising business is most at risk. The use of voice obfuscates the underlying search technology, and gives a provider the ability to change the search technology if it so chooses. If refinement of the query conditions is also done via voice, there is little opportunity to display advertising.

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    3. Google will be the next Microsoft. You can tell by the comments to this article. The haters, creeps, and sickos who want Google to “win” are the majority. They want the total destruction of the two companies they hate more than anything, Apple and Facebook. It’s not so much about Google “winning” as it is about Apple and Facebook “Losing”. They would probably like Microsoft to win, since they are PC gamers, and gamers want to “win”. Apple and Facebook must go for these sick creeps. Apple and Facebook remind them of who they really are.

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      1. Anonymous Coward Monday, July 23, 2012

        Still, you have to consider one thing: Google has not shown the strong-arm type of sales politics Microsoft practiced even in the face of being split by the DoJ until now, and it still takes privacy more serious than any of its competitors, in spite of so many people whining about Google exploiting their personal data. Also, Google has not yet made any attempt to milk their developer community – which is something both Microsoft and Apple are doing heavily. And neither Microsoft nor Apple have an investment in open source as big and important as Google.

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