Tag Archives: Google

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.

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.

Google may be bidding for Waze

Bloomberg:

Google Inc. (GOOG), maker of the Android operating system, is considering buying map-software provider Waze Inc., setting up a possible bidding war with Facebook Inc. (FB), people familiar with the matter said.

Waze is a really great service, and it would be a shame to see it go to Google. For Google, Waze would be an “acqui-hire” aimed at securing some great mapping engineering talent: it’s unlikely that the service would be kept running separately to (and competing with) Google Maps. At Facebook, on the other hand, Waze would be more likely to end up like Instagram: a semi-autonomous, but linked, service.

Apple is winning. Google is winning. Can we shut up now please?

Ben Thompson on the Google we always wanted

Android did its job: Google’s signals have unfettered access to users on every mobile platform. Microsoft is in no position to block them, and Apple, for all its bluster, isn’t interested.

Chrome is doing its job: Google’s signals sit on top of an increasing number of PCs, slowly making the underlying OS irrelevant.

Google+ is doing its job: Every Google service is now tied together by a single identity, and identity is the key to data collection on mobile.

This is the thing that people often don’t get: while Google and Apple appear to be competing with each other, because both companies sell a mobile platform, in fact they have entirely different aims and objectives. This means that it’s perfectly possible for both to “win” by their own criteria.

Apple wins by selling the best devices, ensuring no one can stop them delivering the best user experience and making a profit from them. Google wins by improving its advertising products and ensuring that no other company can lock it out, depriving it of potential audience. 

This is why the occasional talk of Google pulling or handicapping its iOS products (see the comments here) is laughable. Google doesn’t care if you’re using an iPhone or an Android phone. It cares if you’re using Google services or not. And the best way to get iOS users to use more Google services is to produce better products for iOS, rather than expect them to buy a new mobile phone. 

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Blink and you’ll miss it

Blink and you'll miss them

There’s a part of me which wonders, as a massive Doctor Who nerd, if someone in Google’s web platforms team isn’t a big fan. In “Blink”, one of the best episodes ever, the enemy is a group of aliens who take the form of statues which can only move when you’re not looking at them. They’re the ultimate stealth attacker: blink, and they’ve got you.

Likewise, Google’s decision to split with WebKit and instead create its own browser engine – called, Who-style, Blink – looks at first like a stealthy move to control more of the Internet than the search giant already does. Like the statues in Doctor Who, if you don’t keep an eye on them, they’re going to control everything.

That’s certainly the angle that many Mac fans have taken with Blink. I’m actually not so sure. I think that Blink might turn out to be the best thing that’s happened to the web – and, indirectly, a really good thing for Apple too. Continue reading

VP8: Where next for Google’s video format?

What’s the point of VP8, Google’s alternative video compression format which the company released in 2010? VP8 wasn’t just promoted as an option – the company actually said it would phase out support for H.264 in Chrome, and replace it with VP8. Given Chrome’s incredible rise in popularity, this would have been a major blow to H.264.

Fast forward to now, and that strategy looks like it’s in tatters. Chrome retains support for H.264, and has expanded it further, and few sites (except for Google’s own YouTube) even support VP8. Far from being unencumbered by patents, as Google claimed at the time, the company has been forced to take a license to a pool of FRAND patents adminstered by MPEG LA, and other companies continue to claim VP8 infringes on their patents too.

Video compression is an area that’s heavily patented, but also widely licensed under FRAND terms. This is partly because compression is such a core part of what computers are expected to do these days that it’s to everyone’s benefit to ensure that patents are widely licenses. It’s mostly better to pool your patents with others and get either a couple of cents from hundreds of millions of devices or avoid paying the same fee on your own.

I’m at a loss to understand what Google thought it was doing with VP8. Given then vast range of patents in this area, it was never likely that Google could create a patent-free codec that performed equal to or better than H.264 unless it made some significant breakthrough in technology.

Yes, if it had made such a breakthrough, it would lower its own licensing costs for YouTube and every other property it has which uses video. But given that the licensing costs for H.264 are not exactly onerous, it’s probably ended up spending more on lawyers fees in an attempt to claim that VP8 doesn’t violate patents than it could ever have saved just licensing H.264.

The saga of VP8 smacks a little of corporate immaturity. In most cases, that is one of Google’s strengths, because it allows the company to disrupt product categories and gain footholds in new territory.

But when dealing with something as heavily patented as video compression, that strength becomes a weakness. As with many of Google’s brushes with the law, the company seems to see legalities as something it can legitimately try and “hack”, rather than just following the same rules as everyone else. By and large, though the law isn’t amenable to hacking, and the VP8 case is just another example of this.

A Mac user’s view of the Chromebook Pixel

I’ve been a Mac user since 1986, and edited a Mac magazine for a couple of years. I’ve contributed to MacGasm, MacFormat, and pretty-much anything that has the word “Mac” in its title. I attended more Steve Jobs keynotes than is healthy, and suffered the epic 3 hour Gil Amelio keynote which reduced even the hardest-bitten hacks to weeping babies. If there is such a thing as Mac spurs, I’ve earned them.

But as a technology writer, I’ve also always kept an open mind about other options. I’ve used Windows in anger (back in the days when a tablet PC meant Tablet PC, not an iPad). I’ve had Android phones. I’ve used my own cash to buy Android tablets (and boy, did I regret that one).

And in the past couple of years, anyone that follows me will know that I’ve also long been interested in the Google’s Chromebook concept. The idea of a machine which reflects how I actually work (mostly online) is attractive. It’s secure, fast enough, and I never have to worry about where any of my data lives. Almost all the software that I use on a day-to-day basis is web-based, and my browser is the application I use most often. Sometimes two of them. Continue reading

What’s the point of Google+?

Marco Arment thinks that Google is heading down the wrong path with Google+:

But Google’s increasingly desperate push to cram Google+ down everyone’s throats hasn’t made Google+ any more relevant. It has only resulted in a lot of confused Google-account owners who inadvertently “upgraded” to Google+ while trying to do something else on a Google property, and who don’t even realize that they have this account on this social network that none of their friends use even though they all accidentally have accounts on it.

(via There’s No Avoiding Google+ – Marco.org)

I think Marco is missing the point of Google+. As the WSJ report he links to puts it:

“Both Facebook and Google make the vast bulk of their revenue from selling ads. But Facebook has something Google wants: Facebook can tie people’s online activities to their real names, and it also knows who those people’s friends are. Marketers say Google has told them that closer integration of Google+ across its many properties will allow Google to obtain this kind of information and target people with more relevant (and therefore, more profitable) ads.”

If none of those registered users actually posted a single thing on Google+, Google would still get something out of it. Google+ is all about tying together all your activity across the web into a single, coherent identity, one where it also knows who your friends are – which, of course, Google will track as you send and receive emails, comment on blogs, and so on. If you post and “+1″ things, all the better as it gives Google more data about what you like. But it’s not essential.