Category Archives: Google

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The best of Google

It’s easy to forget.

I’ve spent much of the day at one of Google’s UK offices, being trained in how to make YouTube channels work better, something that’s of great interest to my employer. Whenever I visit the offices, tucked round the corner from the windy, desolate obelisk that is Centrepoint, I’m reminded of what makes Google awesome: the people.

I’ve never met a Googler that I didn’t like. I’m sure there are some, but in many years of dealing with them I’ve just not met one that wasn’t clever, engaged, interested in what you had to say and most of all fun. That makes it sound like there’s some kind of clone factory churning them out, but it’s true: The Googlers I’ve worked with have been, to a person, great.

That’s one of the things that I think about when someone says to me that Google is evil. It’s not, at all, simply because the kind of people who I’ve met who work there have mostly been anything but evil. They’ve also been incredibly switched on to the compromises that you have to make in running a service which lives or dies by the results of advertising, and that depends on harvesting as much of the world’s data as possible.

The issue I have with Google is simply fear: not that the current crop of Googlers might do bad things with all the power we’re handing over to them, but that in the future some other Googlers will. If there’s one thing history proves, it’s that the more you centralise power, the more likely that power is to be misused in the future.

Meanwhile, though, I’ll just carry on enjoying the products. I’ll keep on being able to find pretty-much anything published in the last 20 years online with just a few keystrokes. That’s the kind of thing which, as a graduate student, I would have died for.

Picture by  Kasya Shahovskaya

The Plus in Google Plus isn’t quite this Plus

John Gruber in “The Plus in Google Plus”:

The conventional wisdom about Google is that they’re selling our privacy to advertisers. That’s no longer a fringe opinion — it’s the consensus. They’re breeding resentment.

The ironic thing is that they're not actually doing this. Google never, ever, gives your data to advertisers – it's way too valuable for that. What it does is give access to audiences, which is a very different thing.

Google and Motorola: (One of) the biggest destructions of shareholder value in history

If the reports are true (and Matthew Panzerino certainly thinks they are) then it looks like Google is selling off Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for a bargain-basement $3bn. This would represent a loss of around $9bn in a little over two years. (Update: It’s official.)

Except there’s more money been flushed down the toilet than just the loss on the deal. There’s also around $1.5bn of losses, plus probably hundreds of millions of dollars of legal fees which have spent chasing Apple around patent courts – to absolutely no effect.

The entire farce has cost Google somewhere in the region of $11bn, even once it’s managed to get $3bn back from Lenovo, which is desperate for a brand it can use to crack the American market.

This would eclipse the $10.2bn deal (and $8.8bn write down) for Autonomy done by those masters of a poor acquisition, HP.

Imagine, for one second, Tim Cook making a huge acquisition and, two years later, taking a $10bn bath on it. How loud would be the calls for him to be fired? Will there be similar calls for Larry Page to step down? Not a chance.

Update: Here’s another way of looking at it. Google sells Motorola Mobility for $3bn, after selling Motorola Home to Arris for $2.35bn. Assuming that Google is holding on to all the patents, and that its valuation of $5.5bn is correct (highly unlikely), that all comes to $10.85bn – a loss of around $2bn on the price it originally paid. Add in losses and so on, and you’re probably talking about a $4bn loss. That’s not quite the $6.2bn write-off that was Microsoft’s acquisition of aQuantive, but it’s not far off.

If someone made a potato, Samsung would make a Galaxy Potato

GigaOm:

Another report in the Korea Times suggests that Samsung is also working on a pair or smart glasses designed to compete with Google Glass, tentatively dubbed Galaxy Glass. Samsung is reportedly hoping to launch these glasses by September at IFA, which might get them to market sooner than Google makes its Glass available at the consumer level. 

I’m trying to think of a new technology which has come out that Samsung hasn’t raced to copy. 

Nope, still trying… no. Can’t think of anything. 

Repeat after me: Chrome is the platform, Android (and iOS) is just the host

I’ve been saying for some time that Google’s longer-term plans for application development all hinged around Chrome. Native Android apps are silos: although Google has built tools which allow developers to make Android apps searchable (and thus a target for ad sales, and tracking) it’s much harder than with a native HTML web app. 

Building an app using native tools is also a dead-end: developers have to work harder to create a web-native equivalent. And web-native equivalents can be easily supported by advertising, supplied by… you guessed it… Google. 

Chrome Packaged Apps, on the other hand, are “native” web apps – and the web is Google’s true focus. So it’s no surprise that Google has released an early release which lets you bring Packaged Apps to iOS and Android. 

Chome is the development platform, not Android: Android is just the host, just like iOS is. 

Samsung’s road to smartphone dominance is a dead end

How many stories in the tech press have you read over the past year which posited a theory of Apple being in trouble? Tens – probably hundreds of articles have appeared which put forward the idea that Apple’s needed to move the iPhone downmarket and create a cheaper version to gain market share. Failure to do this means doom.

So let’s take a look at a company which has followed exactly this plan, competing at every level of the smartphone market from cheap devices for the masses through to expensive, high-end phones: Samsung.

Samsung’s earnings are out, and they’re not pretty:

“Earnings will remain stagnant this year as the explosive growth of the past two to three years seems to have ended,” said Lee Sun Tae, a Seoul-based analyst at NH Investment & Securities Co. “Although the lower-end smartphone market will continue to grow, the scale of profit from that segment doesn’t compare to the high-end market so the growth seems limited.”

Samsung’s problem is simple: at the low end it is being squeezed out of existence by low-name and no-name Chinese manufacturers, all happy to stick “good enough” Android on their phones with no costly extra software. Although the company has tried to differentiate its products by value-ended extras and services, for price-conscious consumers these are meaningless or, in some cases, a turn-off.

At the high end, it is being squeezed by Apple, which has proved it can compete in any market.

If you want to make a comparison to the PC market, Samsung is like IBM was: a “quality brand” producing products which aren’t sufficiently different from cheaper commodity players like Dell. In the smartphone market, for Dell read Lenovo or (long term) Xiaomi.

Some thoughts on what Google has bought Nest for

Some smart points about Google’s acquisition of Nest from John Gruber, who notes that in Tony Fadell Google has got someone who knows how to do hardware capable of scaling to tens of millions of units.

However, one minor point about John’s story, from this paragraph:

One of Alan Kay’s numerous oft-cited quotations is, “People who are really serious about software should partner with an OEM in Asia.” No, wait, that’s not what he said. What he said is, “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” That’s never been true of Google, putting aside Motorola (which they seemingly acquired more for its patent portfolio than for its phone hardware acumen) and the niche Google Search Appliance.

In fact, Google has independently designed two pieces of hardware: The Chromebook Pixel and Nexus Q. But that, I think, makes John’s point stronger. Both the Pixel and Q were expensive, high-end pieces of hardware which could never have scaled to selling tens of millions of units. The Pixel was (and is) effectively a flagship demonstrator the potential for Chromebooks; and the Nexus Q was a unique media device which, because of its design, cost about four times as much as its competition.

With the Pixel and Q, Google proved it could design high-end hardware on its own. What it hasn’t been able to do is create high-quality hardware capable of being mass produced at low cost. Of all the tech hardware companies, only Apple and Nest have really nailed that one. And Apple wasn’t available for sale.

Apple “not in the bidding” for Nest

Liz Gannes, for Re/Code:

Nest had been close to completing a funding round of upward of $150 million that would have valued it at more than $2 billion, Re/codereported earlier this month. That round never closed, because Google swept in with its huge offer. Sources familiar with details of the acquisition said that Google was the only serious bidder and Apple was not in the mix.

I get the feeling from the extremely sarcastic comments on Twitter that Google just pushed themselves way beyond the creepy line. Being on your phone gathering data is one thing: being in your home gathering data is quite another.

Gmail and Google+ sitting in a tree…

Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch about a new feature that Google is implementing to link Google+ with Gmail:

Google is today making a change to Gmail that will further bake in Google+ to its webmail product in a way that’s actually somewhat practical, though also potentially invasive. Going forward, you’ll now be able to directly email your Google+ contacts from Gmail, even if you don’t know their email address. And by default, anyone on Google+ will be able to email you as well, thanks to this new option, if you don’t adjust your settings.

Yes, of course the default for this feature is on: Google wants more social data to flow into its data centres, because it needs to know more about you to deliver more “relevant” search results (and, by the way, ads).

While I’m comfortable with this kind of thing, the assumption that it should be default-on is exactly the reason I’m gradually weening myself off Google’s services.

Chromebooks are like iPads

Ben Thompson gets the Chromebook better than any one else, possibly because he uses a Chromebook Pixel himself:

In fact, the best comparison for a Chromebook is not a Windows PC, but an iPad. Both are appliance-like devices that are easy-to-use, impossible-to-break, and designed first and foremost for the experience, not the feature list. And, if you write like Dr. Drang and need multiple windows, a Chromebook is in fact superior to the iPad.

Spot on. Both Chromebook and iPad are examples of what I call “friction-free computing” – devices which remove the cruft and hassle of an old operating system, requiring little to no maintenance. What this class of device allows you to do is live in the applications you use to get stuff done, with the operating system getting out of the way.