Is Google Losing Its Edge?

When you hear the word ‘Google‘, what do you think of? Search, Gmail, Maps, Android? or maybe innovation, trust, reliability? or is it … ‘do a barrel roll’? For many, it’s all of the above. Google has held the benchmark for technology innovation and is renowned as the creator of modern trends throughout the past decade. And with hit after hit since its origination in the late 90s, Google has gained our trust and made its way into our homes and our daily routines. We rely on Google. So when you start hearing bad press about new costs, unsuccessful redesigns, and failed launches, you begin to ask: “Is Google Losing Its Edge?”

Search “Google” in … well, Google, and you’ll see that over the past month, they have made significant changes to some of their products, resulting in extensive bad press:

The first being the redesign of Google Reader. In an attempt to save further market Google Plus, Google decided to integrate it with Reader. Reader is an RSS client and one of Google’s prior home-runs with a large user base. To the disappointment of many current users, this new release requires Google Reader users to also use Google Plus. Serving as a catalyst to this disappointment, the user interface redesign accompanying this release was poorly received and contributed to widespread dissatisfaction with the product.

Furthering their descent in the public eye, Google, soon after, announced plans to charge for Google Maps API beginning in 2012. The additional charges would only apply to those users that exceed 25,000 page views in a day. Although Google maintains that this change would affect only 0.35% of current users, the implications of this action will avert an exponentially higher number of users from using Google products. Google has, since its inception, offered free services, relying on their highly successful ad-based business model for revenue. A change in this business model signals a huge red flag to users and will, over time, result in a loss of trust.

As for Google’s third deadly sin in recent memory … Google dubiously made the front page of many publications last week with the failed release of the highly anticipated Gmail app for iPhone and iPad. After years of hesitation and delay, Google finally agreed to release a Gmail app for Apple phones and tablets just last Wednesday. Surprisingly, the product was so flawed, that within minutes, it had to be pulled from the Apple’s App Store. Newswires, the blogosphere, and the twittersphere were inflated with dissatisfied customers, bad press, and reevaluations of the mass public faith in Google.

These three events threaten Google’s, once untouchable, throne. Google committed the biggest crime of all, they failed to understand their users. The trust that serves as the foundation of the company has been shaken for many. Not only has Google failed to understand its users, but it changed its ‘free’ business model, and released a broken application. This is highly uncharacteristic of Google. How can you trust a company that you don’t recognize?

Overlooking disappointment in an attempt to understand, the decisions leading to these unfavorable events seem to be a product of the current technological climate. Technology is booming. Silicon Valley has recovered from the burst of the late 90s and is thriving. Innovation is blossoming and many competitors are rising. If there was ever a time for Google to be unsettled by competition, it is now. Google has made unsuccessful attempts to compete with Groupon (with Google Offers), Facebook (with Google Plus), and Twitter (with Google Buzz & Jaiku). Like any king evading an attack on his kingdom, Google is making moves. Unfortunately, “haste” and “reckless” have defined many of these movements.

With a reputation built on fine-tuned, vigorously tested, high quality products (with alpha releases of products into, the now discontinued, Google Labs and multi-year betas), a slip-up of this caliber is unacceptable. Whether this is a result of constrained timelines to stay agile, or lack of control in management, this is unacceptable for a reliable household brand. Google is big enough to absorb all the recent bad press, but what they should be worried about is the direction they are heading in. The innovation and finesse that once described Google is beginning to fade. Google has been the most consistent performer in Silicon Valley over the past decade but recent times make you wonder.


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