Hey Google, You’re Doing It Wrong

13 01 2010

My opinion column for the newspaper continues to be read by very few people, yet that does not deter me from writing one anyway and occasionally providing it for you to read (enjoy?) as well. Be aware, however, that typically these columns are the last thing I do as my deadline fast approaches and therefore, are often filled with ideas that are not fully formed or particularly well thought out.

Google has lesson to learn from Microsoft

For a company that seems to have known only success, Google seems headed for an impending failure.

After a brief period of intense speculation, Google’s “Nexus One” smart phone was made available to customers this year and the initial reports on the long-awaited device have proved grim for the Internet giant.

Not only has it failed to surpass the iPhone in functionality, a report Tuesday from digitaldaily.com said the lack of customer service available for the $529 piece of equipment has set customers raging.

Tech reviewers yawned, in one case literally writing the word into their assessment, and it has become clear that the device is far from making the impact on the cell phone industry that Google achieved with search engines.

This illustrates the all-important difference between producing a piece of software and manufacturing actual hardware.

Moving from between the two realms has always involved navigating some tricky waters, but initial failure doesn’t preclude eventually success.

An example is Microsoft’s moves into the world of video games, where it went from developer to console maker.

Today the company manufactures the second bestselling console, as nothing can touch the astronomical success of the Nintendo Wii. But more than raw numbers, the real accomplishment is its big black box survived Sega’s Dreamcast and then surpassed Sony as the pre-eminent platform for hardcore gaming.

Achieving that success required a rough start. There have been two iterations of the console, the Xbox (released 2002) and the Xbox 360 (released 2005). In the previous generation of machines, the Playstation 2 dominated the market over the original MS machine.

The Playstation brand was associated with blockbuster games and superior graphics. Moreover, the rise in quality and quantity from Western developers had yet to really take off and Sony leveraged its Asian muscle in a powerful way.

In order to reverse this trend, Microsoft did what Google has failed thus far to do with its phone. Microsoft identified and exploited a trend its competitors were ignoring. When it comes to a touch screen and apps, for consumers it’s been there, done that.

It’s strange that for a company associated with innovation, its attempt at a physical product would lack that very quality. Yet, this is not unusual, because a similar development followed when the three video game console makers unveiled their next-gen machines.

As I mentioned previously, the market dominance of the Playstation 2 had afforded Sony with a reputation as the place for the best games. The company seemed able to attract creative hits and the machine capable of pushing a graphical edge.

Yet, when the Big Three put their consoles up for sale, it was precisely these qualities that Sony’s much-hyped machine failed to possess.

Much of this can be traced directly to “Halo 2” and its 360 sequel “Halo 3,” or more precisely, what Halo 2 harnessed so effectively — the power of Xbox Live. Live is pay-per-year service that allows for online play that has grown and expanded from that simple service to incorporate a host of elements that gamers have come to associate with online play.

While Playstation 3 games could certainly be played online, there was no overarching infrastructure provided by Sony to support it. This meant developers had to spend resources creating the framework themselves instead of being able to plug directly into something already provided.

The structure of Live also allowed games to be integrated across the system, meaning you could communicate with your friends no matter what game you or they were in.

Yet, by every measure, when the Big Three put their consoles on the line, the Playstation 3 rapidly fell behind and slipped behind its competitors in sales.
Microsoft’s success is not that it saw that video game consumers wanted to play online. This was obvious and had been occurring on the PC platform since the days of the original “Doom.” Instead, its large market share is because it figured out how consumers wanted to play online.

For Google to dethrone the iPhone or Blackberry, it needs to do what Microsoft did to Sony. It’s clear that phone geeks want apps, touchscreens and G3 speeds now. The question is: What do they want next?




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