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Rory Cellan-Jones

Google on the march

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 2 Nov 09, 09:03 GMT

I've been abroad on holiday for the last week - apologies for the lack of blog posts - but even 6,000 miles away I couldn't help noticing that it was quite a week for technology news. The UK government promised to press ahead with tough measures against illegal file-sharers, Nintendo admitted that the Wii had "stalled", Facebook was awarded $711m in damages against a spammer, and approval was given for web addresses in non-Latin scripts such as Arabic and Chinese. Oh, and there've been countless Twitter stories - from the new lists function to the soul-searching about the mob effect when Tweeters see something they don't like - but I know you're not interested in that...

Screengrab of Google OneBoxWhat really caught my eye was the continuing forward march of Google. In just one week, the search giant appears to have struck fear into three industries - music, mobile phone makers and the sat-nav merchants - by offering consumers something new, often for nothing. Its OneBox music search service, which has seen it team up with MySpace's iLike, is being billed as a way of drawing consumers away from torrent sites to places where they can choose to pay for tracks. But it will also be seen as a threat to the fragile business models of companies like Spotify.

Google's Android mobile operating system, which had something of a slow start, is now appearing on a plethora of new smartphones, with Motorola's Droid the one currently attracting the most hype - and the inevitable "iPhone killer" tag. Apple can probably be relaxed about any single phone, but how long before there are more people using Android than Mac OS on a mobile?

And one of the services Google will now be pushing on phones like the Droid is free turn-by-turn navigation, which makes sat-nav devices - or the TomTom app on the iPhone - suddenly look very expensive. Investors certainly thought the threat was real - shares in both TomTom and Garmin lurched downhill when the news broke.

There is a danger for Google in this continuing land-grab. Commentators are already drawing parallells between the search firm now and Microsoft in 1995 - and asking when the competition authorities in Washington and Brussels are going to try to cut the company down to size.

That may be a little premature. Apart from in search-based advertising, Google does not have a dominant position in any of the markets it has entered, and plenty of its new ventures (I still don't really get Google Wave) have yet to make the impact that their enthusiastic creators have promised . What's more, there needs to be a plaintiff accusing the firm of anti-competitive behaviour with some pretty convincing evidence before the regulators can start flexing their muscles.

But, as we've seen with the furore over Google Books, there are plenty of people out there who don't swallow the idea that this is a company on a purely philanthropic mission to organise the world's information. And, if they start making enough noise, Google might need to ring up Microsoft and ask for the numbers of some smart competition lawyers.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Rory Cellan-Jones.

    my head agrees with the points you make about Google and market dominance, but my heart doesn't. ;) unlike Microsoft, somehow, Google hasn't really "done wrong" yet in the public perception and they've even snuck into our daily conversations (ie. 'have you googled it?' etc).

    I do not think anybody really believes that Google is "..a company on a purely philanthropic mission.." anyway -- like Tony Blair -- they're pure Teflon.

    IMO Google is the best/cleanest interface for searches, and the services I use (mail, reader and docs) satisfy my requirements without suffocating me with 'eye candy'.

    having said all that, I hope you'll get back to us soon with an update on your Ubuntu experience.

  • Comment number 2.

    Focusing on Googles efforts to become a brand name.
    Although i dont like the idea of one company pushing for so much influence and such, it is fair to admit that in terms of innovation, competition and saving the general public a few pennies extra, Google are really doing a good job.

    But then on the other hand - as Rory mentioned - with topics such as the proposed Google Books idea, there is also the belief that Google is perhaps pushing for TOO MUCH influence and trying to be more like Microsoft which is never a good thing.

    But then AGAIN on the other hand, as #1 jr4412 stated, Google does seem to have the best and cleanest interface to deal with when it comes to aspects such as online searching.

    also @1 jr4412
    You just HAD to bring up Ubuntu again huh? ^_^

  • Comment number 3.

    "but I know you're not interested in that..."

    You're right, Rory - we aren't.

    Rory's going to rue the day he mentioned Ubuntu - this blog will now become a haven for fanboys and effusive, yet illiterate, commentary on how 'M$' suxxors.

  • Comment number 4.

    synthil #3.

    RCJ writes: "Oh, and there've been countless Twitter stories - from the new lists function to the soul-searching about the mob effect when Tweeters see something they don't like - but I know you're not interested in that..."

    synthil uses: ""but I know you're not interested in that..."" in order to say "Rory's going to rue the day he mentioned Ubuntu"

    ah, the power of selective quoting -- from Twitter to Ubuntu, just to get a rant in..

    sad, really.

  • Comment number 5.

    but I know you're not interested in that...

    The greatest truth! Anyway, I think Google has done wonders in the last decade as far as innovation goes. But the company's "Do no evil" motto doesn't always apply. And we must be reminded that they are required by US law to show shareholders that they are actively trying to make money and not simply innovating to supply mankind with new technology for free.

    Having said that, Google is definitely on the nicer side if you average everything up. For example, without Google making large email inboxes the norm then we'd still be deleting everything before we hit 100MBs. (I'm aware that free large inbox email providers existed before, but Gmail was the first sustainable one)

    In conclusion, it's a mixed bag.

  • Comment number 6.

    Personally, I don't care if I use Bing or Google to do my search bidding, bingle combines both with one search so I use that ... Google is a big company and it's nice to see they're pushing innovation in other areas away from search but I'm not loyal to a brand, if I find something better I'll use it.

    As for google books .. i prefer an actual book.

    Oh, M$ SUXOR$ and breeds stupidity!
    Oh, are you going to be looking at Fedora 12 when it's released in a number of days?!

    ps. hope you had a nice break we look forward to all the blogs on the topics you covered in the first paragraph ;) like you said, typical the week you go away all this happens!!

    Welcome back!

  • Comment number 7.

    Since the Google Books controversy began - and seeing the implications while working in book publishing - I've never believed the "no evil" philosophy. Google is just a company like any other.

  • Comment number 8.

    RCJ,

    "...the search giant appears to have struck fear into three industries - music, mobile phone makers and the sat-nav merchants - by offering consumers something new, often for nothing."

    I would put "nothing" in quotes. Google sits on a goldmine of personal data, which some privacy groups are worried about. I also think Google knows how to make use of soundbites for their marketing purposes.

    That aside, looks like no ICT sector is free from Google's reach. I feel for the sat-nav guys; their party may be over very soon.

    However, I couldn't help but notice Microsoft's GPS tracking functionality in their Bing for mobile app. That's just a few steps away from full-featured sat-nav app. So, I wouldn't be surprised if MS already have something, but were holding back waiting for Google to make their announcement and see how the anti-trust or anti-Microsoft world would react.

  • Comment number 9.

    Google like Microsoft count on inertia to penetrate a large number of areas. The consequence of course is that it may be that smaller companies, whose competing business model has not themselves generated a volume of interest to oppose this inertia, suffer. They will be just another casualty in the web/software wars.

    As for Google Books publishing books that are out of print and out of copyright... Knowledge should not be lost, and an archive freely available to the world, to me doesn't seem to be an "evil" idea. The SatNav system, again if that makes satnavs applications and devices cheaper, well sorry TomTom, I am not complaining.

    But I agree with McFaulty on one thing...My biggest concern is that Google, whose principle income stream is from targeted advertising, now holds a record of our thoughts, interests, movements and habits. They get this from our emails, our documents, our calenders etc. This information is the power behind Google. Are we all happy that a single organisation can control so much information about us?

  • Comment number 10.

    Google exists in a commercial space and lives or dies by competing with others in this sector. The bottom line is they have to make a profit. 'Do no evil' - ha ha.

    The recent announcements are part long term strategic play designed to let Google maintain their dominant search position. Read this article about them to understand what they are doing and their business model

    http://abovethecrowd.com/2009/10/29/google-redefines-disruption-the-%E2%80%9Cless-than-free%E2%80%9D-business-model/

  • Comment number 11.

    Personally IMO its no different from tesco, intitially better prices for consumers/retailers with the power of mass advertisement they use it to will drive down cost, same as tesco, therefore buying power dictates that you'd use them, but as we have seen especially in the food market they abuse that power just by sheer size, so the average supplier cannot meet or make a healthy profit to reinvest, as long as their is competition there will still be innovation but regulation is clearly needed in all fields of the markets so the small player still has there say in what's possible for reinvention or even to diversify there markets to withstand such pressure.

    As we have already seen with the british agriculture sector its not possible to break even/profit to reinvest or even to make the daily bread takes a loss of ethics and standards E.g. the coup culture for chicken breeding, I don't mean to make a political point on regulation and make a pro political influence on businesses or a pro PETA statement as i work in the financial sector and can see the financial power of even getting a major corporation to pay on time makes a massive difference to the financial health of the company.

    But I can't help feel that a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) pro statement or law would help in these instances rather than restricting the use of these companies, or make it at least financially restrictive for these companies to ascertain such global dominance so quickly.

    Al

  • Comment number 12.

    P.S. I also use google for pretty much everything Docs, Gmail, reader the lot, so I can already see my growing dependence on them!!!!! Hope that qualifies me a worthwhile contributer

    Al

  • Comment number 13.

    With regards to JR4412, do you not worry re; they're open standards will change within time and start to think of a more BSD approach (apple's pick and choose approach) and close down what they submit within time, as they can pull out as and when they feel and they're public disclosure to the stock market dictates that they can withhold the information on new WIPs, not that they'd want to but is another worry of my growing independence.

    Al

  • Comment number 14.

    AlexanderGale #13.

    "..do you not worry re; they're open standards will change within time.."

    not really, bear in mind that Google (for me) is simply convenient, ie. I use mail to receive newsletters, reader to keep up with certain newsgroups, docs to store reference links and the like. now, I realise that their profiling will 'reveal' stuff about me, but not anything I need worry about. ;)


    Haeltera #2.

    apologies for not engaging at the time, got distracted.

  • Comment number 15.

    RCJ: "And one of the services Google will now be pushing on phones like the Droid is free turn-by-turn navigation, which makes sat-nav devices - or the TomTom app on the iPhone - suddenly look very expensive. Investors certainly thought the threat was real - shares in both TomTom and Garmin lurched downhill when the news broke"

    This turn-by-turn sat nav is US only for now though, and will apparently rely on street view for total accuracy - I wonder if this means it will never launch in the UK due to the number of people who complained about they're being caught in the photo taken by the Google Car. I wait with eager anticipation to see if this service arrives here, and whether it is better than current dedicated devices such as the TomTom's or Garmin's.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    To me, Google are just getting too big and if they're not careful then they will be viewed in a similar light to Microsoft.

    In fact, I'm getting to the stage that I prefer MS, which in itself is scary!

    The problem Google has is that it used to take on the big companies but since it got big, its now taking on small innovative companies (Spotify) and has the possibility of destroying them which will put Google in the wrong light.

  • Comment number 18.

    I've always wondered why some bright spark hasn't used the free maps on the internet and GPS on your phone to create a free sat nav. However, Google need to get Google Docs on Android. That will be a massive step forward.

  • Comment number 19.

    Personally, I found even the first basic versions of Google Maps to be very useful on my GPS enabled mobile phones. I am definitely looking forward to the new Android, turn-by-turn navigation handsets.

    Google seems to have a small foothold in an awful lot of markets at the moment. Given their track-record, their future growth and influence could be staggering.

    They are currently sitting on $23+bn of cash and liquid assets - which I can imagine will help to provide a R&D platform very few others will be able to match in the coming recessionary, indebted years.

  • Comment number 20.

    How can you 'get' Twitter and not Google Wave? Admittedly one is incredibly linear in terms of use, while the other is meant to be far more flexible and scalable.

    Also, just to be pedantic, Google Wave is in limited Beta so its hard for a furore to break out just yet...

 

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