Two of the biggest tech companies in the world–Google and Apple–couldn’t be more different in their philosophies. Apple has always believed in doing a very few things very well, famously saying no to a thousand things for every time it says yes. Google, in contrast, has tried to do– well, almost everything, including things well in the realms of science fiction.
Steve Jobs and Larry Page spoke about this difference shortly before Jobs died, with the Apple co-founder urging Page to “figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up.” Jobs expressed the view that, without focus, Google was in danger of turning into the next Microsoft, creating a large number of ok products but none of them with any wow factor …
Personally, I can see merit in both approaches. I love the fact that Apple puts such tremendous resources into sweating every last detail of a small number of products (though perhaps not always successfully). I also love the fact that a company with Google’s vast resources acts a bit like an excited schoolboy, trying out all kinds of crazy stuff just because it can–some of which will turn out not to be so crazy after all.
But while I might admire that sense of corporate adventure, it does have a downside. Google may not say no to many ideas at the outset, but it does have a record of saying no to rather a lot of things after it’s tried them out–and when people may have come to rely on them.
We featured an infographic back in 2013 of the Google graveyard: all the services Google had closed as of that date. Google Reader, iGoogle, Google Talk, Picnik, Google Labs, Google Wave, Google Answers and more.
Losing a service you’ve come to rely on is a pain for individuals–but it can be a much bigger deal for businesses. Businesses relying on Google Maps Coordinate service, which allows them to track the locations of mobile employees in real time, have just received an email from the company informing them that Google will be closing the service in a year’s time.
This is not some minor utility we’re talking about, this is a professional tool which will by now be integral to the way in which many companies–from delivery services to plumbers–operate. Granted Google has, in this case, given a year’s notice, finding a workable replacement may still not be easy. Maps Coordinate wasn’t free, but it only cost $5/month/employee, which is significantly cheaper than competing solutions. Those companies are going to either put up prices, which may cost them customers, or make cuts elsewhere to pay for a more expensive alternative.
And this is the big problem with relying on Google tools in business. It’s brilliant getting access to services that are either free or offered at a very low price–right up until the moment Google decides to pull the plug. Microsoft may be boring, but Office has been around forever and isn’t going anywhere soon.
You can argue, of course, that Google is no different to any other company. If too few people buy or use a product, it withdraws it from the market. But Google doesn’t just kill unpopular services. Google Reader, for example, was an extremely popular service used and loved by a great many people. Google simply decided it wasn’t sufficiently interested any more, and that was that.
Which is all well and fine for individuals: we got what we paid for. But Google is making a concerted effort to court both SME and enterprise markets. Its aim is to loosen the stranglehold Microsoft has on the corporate market with its Office productivity suite–the ubiquitous Word, Excel and Powerpoint–and persuade companies to switch instead to Google Docs.
That’s no easy task in the best of circumstances. Every desk-based corporate employee is intimately familiar with one or more of those apps, and persuading them to start afresh learning a new set of apps is a tough ask.
But Google has, from all appearances, been making significant progress. While every PC in the Fortune 500 list doubtless still has Microsoft Office installed, it’s increasingly common for employees to at least be informally using Google Docs as a simple means of collaboration. With enough people doing that, gaining familiarity with the user-interface, the barrier to switching platform gradually fades away.
But not if Google gets a reputation for attention deficit disorder. For deciding almost on a whim that it has lost interest in a particular area of its business. The enterprise market needs to be confident that when it invests time and effort in rolling out a Google service, it will not be forced to start over with a different service a year or two down the line.
But take one piece of advice from Jobs: in the business world, pick a small number of products and make them great. Most important of all, make them still be here five years from now.