Google continues its shuttering rampage, closes Picnik, Clouds Urchin, and open sources Skymap

Google announced last night that it would be discontinuing a number of its services in the coming months because they “replicate other features, haven’t achieved the promise we had hoped for or can’t be properly integrated into the overall Google experience.”

Two things jump out at me regarding these closures:

  1. Google is channeling its lab-like smaller products into features of Google Plus.  It almost feels like if it isn’t Android or Search (both recently got heavy + integration), it will soon be part of Google Plus.
  2. Larry Page is heeding the advice he got from Steve Jobs: “Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It’s now all over the map,” read the biography of Jobs’ interaction with Page. Later, Jobs came to Page with a sharped-tongue warning that Google was making products, “That are adequate but not great. They’re turning you into Microsoft.”  Page is now striving for greatness by putting “more wood behind fewer arrows”

Most notably for consumers, Picnik, the Cloud photo editing software, will be discontinued in April.

Picnik: We acquired this online photo editor in 2010. We’re retiring the service on April 19, 2012 so the Picnik team can continue creating photo-editing magic across Google products. You can download a zip file of your creations through Picnik Takeout or copy them to Google+. As of now, the premium service is free to everyone. Premium members will receive a full refund in the coming weeks.

We will likely see Picnik’s features reincarnated in Google Plus —where Google wants users to be storing photos anyway.  Google did the same thing to Picasa late last year.

Google also announced that it will close Urchin Web Analytics, the company it bought in 2005 to make Google Analytics cloud service.  Google kept the offline product available, but it will discontinue updates and sales, then subsequently direct customers to the Google product.

Urchin: helps businesses of all sizes measure their websites and online marketing. We’re fully committed to building an industry-leading online analytics product, so we’re saying goodbye to the client-hosted version, known as Urchin Software. New Urchin Software licenses will no longer be available after March 2012.

Google’s Skymap App project, which was started by some Pittsburgh Googlers in their 20 percent time, will now be Open Sourced and run out of nearby Carnegie Mellon.

A number of other services were also slated for termination…

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Vevo: Out with YouTube, in with Facebook?

Facebook held at least two meetings with Vevo —the most recent one occurring within the last couple of weeks— to discuss moving the music video service from YouTube to the social network’s platform.

However, sources told CNET that the talks are “very preliminary,” and they mentioned there is one year remaining on Vevo’s contract with Google’s YouTube.

Vevo launched in 2009 and offers music videos from Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Music. YouTube helped launch the startup, and subsequently Vevo’s videos appear on the partner’s service, with Google and Vevo sharing advertising revenue.

Vevo features the most extensive catalog of premium music content on the Internet, and it is available in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom through its website, mobile apps, or by way of connected televisions. The service currently powers music videos on artist profiles across Facebook, and its content is syndicates to numerous online websites, including AOL, BET, CBS Interactive Music Group, Fuse.tv and Univision. Moreover, through YouTube, Vevo is accessible in over 200 countries.

Facebook is allegedly interested in an arrangement similar to the one Vevo has in place with YouTube now, which would allow the social network to stream Vevo’s music videos with the two companies sharing profits from advertising revenue…

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Google Fiber delayed in KCK over wire dispute, cable competitors say BPU favors Google

Google Inc., announced last spring that Kansas City, Kan., landed the search engine’s super-speed Internet project, but disputed details within the original agreement over wires and fees have created a troublesome hurdle, and lawyers and engineers are still attempting to find middle ground nearly 10 months later.

The local community was nicely suited for hanging Google’s cables, so it vied against 1,100 other United States localities that were courting the Mountain View, Calif.-based Company and its ambitious Internet plans. Subsequently, KCK became known as the first “Gigabyte City” or “Fiber Town.”

“Since we announced our plans to build experimental, ultra high-speed broadband networks, the response has been tremendous. Hundreds of communities and hundreds of thousands of individuals across the country have expressed their interest in the project,” said Google on its Fiber Network website.

“We’re planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people,” Google added on its official blog.

The story continues below.

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Google Maps now highlights areas of interest

A tipster over at the Google Operating System blog pointed out a small —but welcomed— tweak in Google Maps that lets you highlight areas of interest based on upon search queries:

When you search for a city or a county or a ZIP Code, Google Maps now highlights the boundaries of what you searched for. If you are zoomed out, the whole area is shaded pink. If you zoom in a bit, it has just a big pink border with grey shading. Zoom in even more and it’s a dashed boundary with grey shading.

In the above screenshot, I searched for Cupertino, Calif., and Google Maps automatically highlighted the city’s area inside the map view, allowing me to visually grasp the size of Cupertino. Note that the highlighting feature does not work in other Maps views, such as satellite.
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Google’s new account sign up requires Gmail and a profile, automatically joins users to Google+

According to a post on the unofficial Google Operating System blog, Google redesigned the account sign up process and now requires users to create a Google Profile, a Gmail account, and automatically join Google+. This will certainly help the continued growth of Google+ that currently sits around 90 million users, along with 350 million active Gmail users, according to Larry Page’s announcement during the Google’s Q4 2011 earnings call.

Before the redesign that has not yet rolled out to everyone, users could create an account by simply entering an email address or creating a Gmail account. According to the report, the new form requires users to fill out a name, gender, and optionally a mobile phone number. However, perhaps the most significant change is the fact that new Google account holders will have a Google+ account created automatically, and they will have to fill out a Google Profile during the sign up process. Users can still delete their Google+ and Google Profile if they wish. They will also be able to delete Gmail after creating an account. The change seems to have rolled out only through Google’s homepage and a few services, with the old sign up form still accessible elsewhere.

Google explained on the new page:
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Google Latitude on desktop gets a facelift

Google just revamped the look of Latitude, its location-aware service akin to Foursquare. According to a post by Google’s community manager for Google Maps, Danial Mabasa, the new Google Latitude interface can be now accessed on desktop browsers at www.google.com/latitude. As you can see from the above screenshot, it is not much different from Google+. However, upon remembering how the old website looked, it is definitely a major makeover that helps achieve consistent user experience across Google’s key properties.

You can now easily access your friends’ list in the left-hand column or click the wrench icon to customize your personal location history and location settings. Whenever you want to manually update your location, just hit the Update button next to your name and approve your browser’s location sharing prompt. Another cool feature lets you playback your location history (should you choose to preserve it) from a select range of dates by pressing the Play button on the bottom left-hand corner of the map.

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Google: 250M Android devices now activated, 11B apps downloaded from Android Market

Google just announced in its Q4 2011 earnings live call that there are 250 million Android devices now activated, up 50 million from the last call. Better yet, Google also announced that there has been 11 billion downloads from the Android Market, rising 1 billion since December. Google also announced that there are 350 million active Gmail users.

Those are pretty solid numbers from Google. Make sure you listen to the rest of the call here.

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Google Q4 2011 earnings: Analysts expectations not met despite record quarter, stock plummets

Google just announced its record-breaking fourth-quarter earnings and, within minutes of reporting, the Mountain View, Calif.-based Company dropped a whopping 10 percent in early-after hours trading due to missed expectations.

Google missed analyst expectations for earnings per share during Q4 2011 and its stock immediately plummeted. Analysts predicted the company would produce $10.49 in non-GAAP earnings per share, but it only amounted to $9.50 in earnings per share (versus $8.75 in the Q4 2010).

Nevertheless, the earnings’ upswing surpassed the $9.72 billion revenue reported in Q3 2011. Google revenue hit a record $10.58 billion in Q4 2011, before deducting traffic acquisition costs, which is a 25 percent increase from $8.44 billion a year earlier. Profit also grew to $2.71 billion, compared to $2.54 billion in the Q4 2010.

“Google had a really strong quarter ending a great year. Full year revenue was up 29 percent, and our quarterly revenue blew past the $10 billion mark for the first time,” said Larry Page, CEO of Google, in a press release.

Android, Gmail, and Google+ are also growing. The new social network reached 90 million users globally, which is “well over double what I announced just three months ago,” Page explained. The CEO also announced today that Google saw 250 million Android device activations, and over 11 billion apps downloaded from the Android Market.

“I’m very excited about what we can do in 2012 – there are tremendous opportunities to help users and grow our business,” Page said.

Although Google did not meet analysts’ expectations, the company is trumpeting its first $10 billion quarter.

The Q4 2011 financial summary and highlights are detailed below.

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Anandtech’s take on ICS/Galaxy Nexus/Mobile computing

AnandTech does its typical thorough job of reviewing the Galaxy Nexus and, as you can see above, there is an in-depth analysis of the mobile landscape.  The conclusion was not much different from ours, however.  Spoiler:

As far as Ice Cream Sandwich is concerned, it really is Android perfected. Everything is smoother, faster and nearly all of our issues with the OS have been addressed. ICS brings Android into 2012 and gives Google a great platform to begin to introduce new features going forward. Android is now very close to UI performance parity with iOS, which eliminates a major tradeoff you had to make in the past. If you were hoping for ICS to be iOS with a Google logo on it, you’ll be sorely disappointed. However if you’re a fan of Android and just wished it were smoother and more polished, Ice Cream Sandwich is what you’ve been waiting for.

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EU to decide on Google, Motorola Mobility acquisition Feb. 13

The European Commission set a Feb. 13 deadline to restart its antitrust review and decide whether to approve Google Inc.’s proposed acquisition of Motorola Mobility Holdings, Inc.

According to Reuters, the Mountain View, Calif.-based Company came forward with new documents to support its case, so the EU lifted the temporary suspension in order to make a decision next month.

The commission took a “routine” step and hit the pause button on its Jan. 10 deadline last month to gather more information and documents from Google, but the EU still anticipated the deal to close in 2012. It seems as though the commission’s forecast may be correct, as Motorola shareholders already announced their unanimous approval last November…

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