The Good, The Bad, And The Mysterious Google

The Good, The Bad, and The Mysterious Google

Google is a confounding company. We all interact with it daily; almost everyone uses Google Search and Google Maps, at least. Android is running on an overwhelming number of new phones and tablets, with such a commanding lead that it’s fair to say that Android is the new Windows.

And yet . . .

THE GOOD

Google Now is the remarkable virtual assistant that provides useful information before you ask for it. Here’s some background about Google Now. If you’re in the Google ecosystem, it will remind you about appointments on your Google calendar, pop up boarding passes that it pulls from Gmail as you approach the gate at the airport, and remind you when it’s time to head for the station to catch the last train of the night. It’s the most forward-looking app from any company right now, and the best example of the rewards of settling into an ecosystem and living there.

Yesterday Google released a major update for Google Now for iOS, so iPhone and iPad users can experience more of the benefits of the app. By definition, iPhone users are not very likely to be living deeply in the Google ecosystem but they can take advantage of another Google Now feature, the ability to ask questions – like Siri but perhaps with better results. If the Google Search app is open, say “OK, Google” and ask a question or set a reminder. Here’s some more information about the iOS update. Reportedly there will be an update for the Android version of Google Now soon that adds even more features.

THE MYSTERIOUS

Google has docked a barge on Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay and loaded it with shipping containers stacked four stories high. No one knows what it is and Google isn’t commenting. There is another Google barge near Portland, Maine, and two more that are registered but have not yet been sighted. The Coast Guard visited the SF barge but only after signing nondisclosure agreements.

The first guess was that Google is building water-based data centres with shipping containers packed with servers, to be powered by wave action. An odd idea but Google has some patents that cover exactly such a concept and has been working actively on various methods of providing Internet connectivity in odd places. (Most interesting: Internet-beaming antennas on giant jellyfish shaped balloons. Honest! Check it out.)

But then a source told a local TV station that the barge is being turned into a luxury showroom for Google Glass full of chrome and fancy lighting, with an invitation-only party deck on the fourth floor for upscale customers. According to that source, the modular design of the shipping containers will allow it to be transported to different locations anywhere in the world in short order as a traveling marketing and press event.

Data center? Party palace? Personally, I’d like to believe that Google is working on a teleporter that will transmit matter instantly from San Francisco to Maine. And knowing Google, I wouldn’t rule that out.

THE BAD

Google and Microsoft are locked in battle for mind share and market share. Microsoft is playing fair. Google is playing dirty. There’s a difference.

Microsoft takes out ads that are tough, that are biased, but that are accurate. A year ago Microsoft began a sustained ad campaign aimed at convincing you that Google was untrustworthy and urging you to avoid being “Scroogled.” Past ads pointed out that Google does not make it clear that Google Shopping results are basically paid ads. This week Microsoft is beginning a new campaign about the invasion of privacy that occurs when Google sifts through mail in Gmail to create targeted advertising. The ads are one-sided and Google defenders have indignant responses to them – but they’re not inaccurate. In the cutthroat world of big company competition, that easily clears the bar for acceptable behavior.

Google is on a different mission. It has become obvious that Google is actively trying to prevent any Google service from being accessed on a Windows phone or tablet, with the intent of harming consumers and punishing them for choosing a Microsoft product.

It began in January when Google blocked Windows Phones from accessing the Google Maps web site. It was deliberate harm to consumers for no reason except to gain a competitive advantage by making Windows Phone users unhappy. Google half-heartedly claimed there were technical reasons for the move; the explanations were nonsense and immediately debunked.

At about the same time Microsoft made it public that Google was blocking development of a YouTube app for Windows Phone. In May Microsoft released a YouTube app it had developed, which Google immediately blocked. In the face of harsh criticism, Google relented and said it would work with Microsoft to create an app that it could accept. It was lying. In August Microsoft released an updated app that met all of Google’s demands to that point – and Google immediately blocked it and recited a laundry list of technical complaints, not a single one of which was observed by Google itself in its own app on Android or iOS or in any of the third-party apps which Google allows to run on those platforms. There are more details in this article by a Microsoft VP. (There has been no comparable statement by Google explaining its side.)

In another direct shot, Google announced plans to prevent Windows Phone users from accessing Gmail accounts on their phones. It begrudgingly has extended the deadline for implementing the change that will break support for Gmail and something may still be worked out, but the intent to harm consumers was there in the original announcement.

The most recent shot at consumers came yesterday when we learned that Google is shutting down all third-party apps that allow Windows Phone users to use Google Voice. As NeoWin puts it: “This could be Google’s move to rid all of its products from the Windows Phone Store that 3rd parties utilize to bring Google services to Windows Phone users or there may be something more to the picture here. But, at this time, the request seems like it was made with derogatory intentions without any other information to go on.”

Google has flatly said that it does not intend to develop apps for Windows Phone. That’s obnoxious (and hypocritical, given how much effort Google puts into developing apps for iOS) but it’s within the bounds of fair play.

But actively blocking anyone from accessing Google services from a Windows device – to the point that it actually blocked access to one of its web sites – well, that’s inexcusable.

Google claims to be devoted to the principle of open access to its platforms and content. Google’s business is built on exposing its services and its ads to as many consumers as possible. That’s why it has worked tirelessly on creating Google apps for iPhones and iPads. Blocking Windows Phone users from the Google world does not fulfill any business goal. The only reason for this behavior is that Google wants to hurt consumers who buy Microsoft products.

Microsoft learned the hard way that antitrust laws require self-control when a company dominates an important market. Google needs to be taught that lesson.