At the dawn of this new decade, Google sits comfortably atop the computing industry (see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series for my take on how they got there). Dominant in search – still the killer app of the Internet, with all due respect to social networking – Google has a variety of other essential and emerging products that put them at the very pinnacle of software. Still not satisfied, Google has officially moved into the deep end of the pool with their recent consumer hardware products and are clearly positioning themselves for a three team race between themselves, Microsoft, and Apple for leadership in the broader and more emerging category of digital lifestyle experiences.
Where does Google go from here? Unlike Apple and Microsoft, whose apexes are almost certainly in the past, Google’s peak has yet to come. While they may still face as many failures as they do successes – can they truly become the dominant player in mobile computing hardware? Highly unlikely! – they are well-positioned to be the industry’s sacred cow in the decade ahead. This may be traced to a number of reasons that speak to the very heart of why businesses succeed and fail:
- Brand. Apple may still reek cool, but the cold, hard truth is Steve Jobs is getting older and so is Apple’s core group of brand passionates. In fact, the other night I was watching a television program on the most loyal Apple devotees. It was hardly a glamorous collection. Now in their 50’s or older, most of them reflected an out-of-time-and-place hippie fanaticism. Relics of another age, they represent the backbone of people who lifted Apple to glorious heights in the 1980s and kept the fires burning during the lean 1990s.On the other hand, Google’s core fan base is made up of people who came of age during the Internet Era. They can’t imagine a world without easy and frequent Internet access and see mobile computing devices as logical, even natural, manifestations of modern technology. While Apple’s wonderful products of the last decade have brought countless new fanatics into their brand umbrella, the company still carries the leg iron of the multi-coloured Apple logo and the zeitgeist of the parents and grandparents of tomorrow’s consumers. People want to see themselves reflected in the companies, products, and services they choose. For the young, for the people who see now and tomorrow as “their time,” Google, not Apple (and certainly not Microsoft!) is the sexy choice.
- Product. Google is the Internet; the Internet is Google. Beneath the many devices that rule our lives is the software that collectively comprises the Internet. Thanks to it’s dominance in search – which is how most people decide what is important to them – Google is the primary driver of that software. To be clear, search will become less and less important as the other software gets smarter. In fact one could argue that the peak of search has already passed. Yet in the process of dominating search Google has smartly embedded themselves into what seems like every possible nook and cranny of Internet services. There would be an Internet without Google, but can any of us really imagine what that Internet would be?We would search from monolithic web portals. “Web mail” as an email platform would follow an archaic page refresh model – notice that Microsoft and Yahoo to name two still haven’t gotten it right! There would not be a large and meaningful company attempting to literally redefine what a computing operating system in the Internet age should be. There would not be viable, free, online alternatives to simple business productivity software such as Microsoft Office. In these and dozens of other cases, Google has pushed the standards and even limits of what can and should be done by, with, and for the Internet. In the process it has woven itself into the fabric of the very Internet and become the one company that, just maybe, the Internet literally cannot do without.