Google vs everyone: an epic war on many fronts

92 Comments

June, it seems, is the season for new product announcements in Silicon Valley. At its annual WWDC shindig,  Apple (s AAPL) announced a slew of new products including its hot-new Macbook Pro with Retina display and iOS 6. A few days later, Microsoft (s MSFT) 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 (s GOOG) 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.

92 Comments

Boni Satani

i think Google should focus! Focus on creating awesome products like Goggles, focus on their core strength and let other companies rule some market.

blessedgeek

This isn’t about Google wanting to take over the world, is it?

I respect Google in many ways. I think their philosophy is to level the playing field so that they could excel on it. Whereas, Apple and Microsoft is about their taking over the world and controlling it. OTOH, Yahoo is about how little can we give the user and scam them as much as possible to gain a quick buck.

This platform battle is not restricted to the computing realm. There is a battle going on between IBM, Taiwan Semiconductor, etc over the semiconductor modular platform. Between Texas Instr, IBM, etc over analogue modular platform.

There is a competition among bio-technology companies over DNA/molecular modules platform. And one day, predictably, Google and Microsoft will become major players in DNA/molecular modular platforms.

As manufacturing becomes more streamlined – so too would manufacturing offer competing standardized platforms on design, workflow, down to manufacturing processes.

And we need companies like Google which seeks to do the lesser evil of taking control so that no one platform is actually in control. We also need companies like Google to remove from existence companies like Yahoo or AOL whose sole purpose in life is the greed to irresponsibly suck the life out of technology.

Anil Philip

There is a religious myth that Google = Good and Microsoft = Evil. Google is just as intent on world domination – and many times more selfish and willing to use and trample people. In fact, only Bill Gates donated all his money to charity. Not Larry, Sergei, Ellison, McNealy etc. Google rode on the shoulders of countless open source community programmers to achieve its ends – without paying them a penny. Java (android), Linux, Javascript and so on…

Jared Parmenter

Great article, as usual! I’d add two major items to the list of battles Google is entrenched in:
Google’s Chrome Browser vs. Safari (Apple)
Google Chrome Browser vs. Internet Explorer (Microsoft)

The browser wars seem to be even more volatile than the OS wars and hardware wars, given how fast a broken software update or new feature can differentiate between them, and how tumultuous the user adoption curves have been over the past two years.

Om Malik

Jared

Thanks for the reminder on the browser wars. I am bummed that i totally missed this one. You are right – browser – Safari, IE and Mozilla and winning.

trt234

Its all about how you can make money! The comparison with Napoleon seems out of stretch to me.

Maarlon1

This article is right on target. I was delighted with quality of Google Search when it went out. Google Maps are also very useful. YouTube too.

But author is right, Google spreads its power and intelligence onto too many fronts, where company isn’t at home

Better tactics would be to carefully watch promising startups and quietly buy a stake before those startups become too expensive. It would leave Google intact and immune on failures which deteiorate its value. It is realistic to expect that sooner or later Google Search and Adwords will become obsolete, Paradigm Shift will come pretty soon. If Google doesn’t collect a bunch of promising startups until then, it may be in big trouble

Peter

Couldn’t you say the exact same thing about Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple right now? Everyone’s doing clouds, everyone’s doing tablets, everyone’s doing digital media.

At least Google is in this fray because they felt they had something to add and not because they think search and gmail are going away. Everyone else is acting defensively.

Especially Amazon. If anyone has a Napoleon complex, it’s Amazon.

someone

Google will win. Better API, open platform. Developers drive the market.

Dennis O.

You missed one thing. Google TV is fighting Microsoft XBox. If I understand numbers correctly Google is loosing.

Sachin Gupta

Very soon Google will enter in Corporate/Enterprise World with its mail and Google +. g+ is best collaboration tool one can have. This will be a huge Game changer for Google. Can you imagine people using gmail instead of outlook…

Om Malik

Sachin

They already have entered the enterprise world with Chrome, Google Apps and now the Google cloud.

Dong

Really you need to say Google invented this Glass thing? In 2009 Microsoft PDC I already saw a girl wearing something simiar which runs Windows CE and I’m sure that wasn’t built in 2009 and costs $1,500+. Come on, is this going to be another Apple invented GUI stuff?!

Temidayo

Good One Malik… Google is indeed fighting too many people.. You win some u Lose some, but what matters is hope your profit out weights your loss

mars

The thing that’s not mentioned in this article is that although Google seems to be trying to compete in all aspects of the technological spectrum, all their services are connected to each other for a complete ecosystem, for instance android is heavily integrated with all those mentioned services and the other way around, so the more android activations, the more potential consumers and with android at 1 million activations a day and still growing Google is in a real good spot

Mickey

I have always like your comments and analysis but I’m not sure if resource constraints and the “human cost of these battles” is an appropriate analogy simply because, as you stated, of the necessities of these “battles” and the very nature of these battles.
Google, Apple, and Microsoft (and maybe Amazon) are fighting to win the entire digital ecosystem that will dominate consumers’ digital lifestyles. Except for self-driving cars (which will be the frontier after the digital home), most of the products/services that Google offers are complementary to their goal of being the center of consumers’ digital lifestyles. The very same goal that Apple and Microsoft are engaged in. Rome, Napoleonic Wars, and Ottoman Empire attempted to expand simply for the sake of expansion and/or for the glory of their respective empire.
If Google, Microsoft, and Apple are not engaged in these battles, how will they unified all their different services/products to consumers? Also, each “battle” that a company wins allows it to leverage the win to their overall goal. For instance, if Google Drive wins the “battle”, that should increase usage of Google Docs, decreasing the attraction of Microsoft’s Skydrive and Office. In contrast, in physical wars, each battle won usually resulted in severe casualties and the ramifications of assimilating new territories and imposing governance.
Still, it is a tightrope that these big 3 companies need to maneuver in order to win the coveted spot of being the center of people’s digital lifestyles.

Ben

It’s amazing how much negativity there is towards Google when 1) Android has by far the leading market share in smart phones, 2) Google search looks like an untouchable monopoly and is probably the best business in the world, 3) YouTube dominates online video. Otherwise, they’ve just introduced a number of different new products, some of which will fail, some of which will have moderate success, etc. It’s still an incredibly profitable company growing 25% – what’s the problem?!! As an aside, Siri doesn’t work and is a piece of crap.

Jwow

I don’t like the idea of any one company dominate any sphere, no matter how good are its products and services. I gave up on using any Google item years ago; judging by what I see here, I’m glad I did.

wook

Google has clearly showed that it not only wants to better technology, especially as it applies to the Internet/Cloud/search and mobile computing/phones/entertainment, but that it can do so by creating revolutionary products and services, the majority of them at not cost. As Om says, they are doing it on many fronts, and winning on the majority of those fronts, bringing productivity and quality to new levels of achievement. Unfortunately, I find that the bigger and better Google gets, the less I want to use their services and products. I’ve already gotten rid of my Gmail account, and stopped using Google search. The Google has a never-ending appetite, and I don’t want to feed it any longer . . .

James Stratford

A very interesting point, although as has been pointed out Apple and Microsoft also face a fight on multiple fronts. What would concern me about Google’s plight is that aside from advertising, Google has never really made any money with its vast array of weird and wonderful projects. It seems like a group of nerds that made billions with a banal advertising model and want to use that money to try to make just about anything they think is cool despite failure after failure.

How much money has Android made them? YouTube (which I believe has not been improved by its acquisition one little bit)? Google Docs? The list goes on. What is the monetary strategy behind these initiatives? Googlites get angry when you ask these questions as if it is somehow disgusting to talk about money, like Google is trying to change the world for altruistic reasons. These questions matter because if you aren’t making money, you aren’t breathing as a company and your products don’t have a future.

I can’t quite understand why so many commenters hope Google ‘wins’? In a world where Google has won, everything you ever use will have advertisements, ever-changing UIs and privacy concerns on a daily basis. As the axiom goes, you either buy a product, or you are the product. I fear if Google succeeds in finding dominance one day, a heavy price might be paid for the naivety of those that let it happen.

dang1970

The only company absent from my daily use is Apple. Apple stuff is just so overpriced.

Jwow

For me, it’s Google. I no longer use any of their services or products.

Mint

Are you sure you’re no longer using any Google service or product? :)

Ranjanabh Bahukhandi

Om,

Thank you for the well worded article. It brings out the salient features of not only Google’s strategy but most of the blue-chip players in the, let’s say, “content-delivery-to-end-user” model.

Though I do agree w/ your premise, however I think the problem isn’t only about the “me-to” philosophy but the fact that most of these companies are reactive to the leaders (mostly Apple) as opposed to being proactive (Google/Microsoft).

There’s a lot of truth in your argument of stretching oneself very thin, just to stay alive. However I do believe that one must do what it takes to stay relevant in this industry. As you would know (more than many others) it moves at warp speed and can be very unforgiving. And in the process I guess one does have to mold and adapt to be consistent w/ what’s expected of them.

Hardware isn’t easy to do and it’s an iterative process. At the end of the day, Apple is an hardware company and they have an (draconian) grasp on their manufacturing, SCM and marketing cycle and people don’t seem to appreciate it much, but all of this plays an equally important role in shipping out an device to the end user. I feel what Google is doing w/ it’s Android ecosystem is healthy and it “could” be in a better direction. They shouldn’t dabble much w/ Nexus Q-esque kind of devices.

However, having had said that, I think what they are doing has a more hope than despair. They are trying to centralize their Google Play store and making it the nerve center of the content delivery for Android users. And I think that does need a second look. Any iOS device is sold @ at least 2x the cost it takes to make these devices. The Kindle Fire, is sold @ a manufacturing loss because Bezos has pinned it’s hoped in recovering the lost ($2-3) from the added Amazon Prime subscriptions. They key usage of any tablet, is the content availability and distribution for their users. Apple has aced it, Amazon started off w/ a bang and as you rightly pointed out, for Google it’s a trench warfare. But I think they can do it and do it right. W/ rapid adoption of Android – I think they have a shot at getting it right. They have a chance to do something unique, by keeping the user at the center of it’s ambitions/products. They always have (tried to at at least).

Google has a lot of ground to cover and I think more w/ the major publishing and production houses to uproot the likes of Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu. But if they play it right, I believe they can. They have a shot at fixing Android for good.

NOW, coming to everything else you said – about fighting things they shouldn’t care too much about. I agree cent percent!

> They should call it quits w/ Amazon on the EC3/AWS front. Amazon has a reputation that is has rightly earned.
> Chrome OS – I don’t know what on God’s green earth are they are achieve w/ this. Unless they have an idea to mesh w/ Android sometime in the future, I’m at loss how this benefits them and the user when it comes it unique offerings.
> Facebook – I can understand why this is important. Facebook has something which Google doesn’t have in totality, a complete view of a user and their likes/dislikes/preferences/locations/ etc. I mean it’s a much holistic grasp of what a user means to them. So that helps them to target their adds better and makes it more attractive for the customer.

They should focus on things which is going to matter in the long term from an Android p.o.v. They need this second awakening, they just can’t a one trick pony w/ search along.

Interested to hear your thoughts.

Albin

I think more accurate to say there is an “ecosystem war” across hardware, operating systems, browsers, apps and services, among the companies discussed. Different companies coming at from different strengths, but the two fields of combat are in common a) consumer and b) enterprise arenas.

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