Google's Risky Business - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Mobile // Mobile Devices
03:25 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
Connect Directly

Google's Risky Business

Google I/O, company's annual developer conference, confirms that Google is on a mission to organize the world's information. Big bets such as Project Glass could bring big rewards, or painful lessons.

New Chromebook: A Visual Tour
New Chromebook: A Visual Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Google I/O 2012, the company's annual developer conference, offered a glimpse of the company's future and a reminder of the company's problems. None of Google's peers, allies, or competitors--Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla, or Samsung--have a vision for technology that is quite as ambitious or socially transformative. And neither do they strive to realize their respective visions in such an incautious way.

Google's demonstration of Project Glass, its augmented reality glasses, exemplifies its approach. In six weeks, the company conceived, coordinated, and executed an impressive stunt twice, flawlessly--skydivers wearing Project Glass prototypes jumped from an airship over San Francisco onto the roof of the Moscone West convention center while streaming video from their glasses to the conference.

That's a lot of risk to call attention to a product that won't even be available in prototype form until next year, is of unproven value, and is sure to provoke privacy concerns. But then what would you expect from the company that pushed ahead with Street View despite the privacy controversies and scanned libraries full of books despite the copyright problems? Google doesn't play it safe.

[ Read Google I/O Day 2: Chrome Hits iOS, IaaS Play. ]

Project Glass could redirect the mobile computing revolution, or it could turn out to be Google's Ginger, a.k.a. the Segway Human Transporter, impressive engineering overshadowed by absurd hype. Ginger, Time suggested a decade ago, might be bigger than the Internet. Don't expect Project Glass to be that big.

At least Google is gambling. It made a credible foray into the hardware business with its Nexus 7 tablet and an iffier attempt to enter the consumer electronics market with its Nexus Q streaming media device. One of these will probably flop--the one priced at $299. But having acquired Motorola Mobility, Google can't back out of the hardware business now. Nor should it: With everyone emulating Apple's model--wedding hardware and software--Google faces a landscape of diminishing opportunities if it doesn't do the same.

As if to prove that point, Google launched Chrome for iOS, free of the primary things that make Chrome meaningful. Google says Chrome's core principles are speed and security, yet Chrome for iOS comes with neither.

Google itself admits that Chrome for iOS might run more slowly than Apple's mobile Safari browser. "Rendering and the Javascript engine are provided by iOS through UIWebView," Google explains on its website. "Because Chrome [for iOS] does not have access to Safari's Nitro engine, Chrome might have slower Javascript performance." The need to accept the restrictions in Apple's UIWebVIew API also affects the privacy afforded by Incognito mode in Chrome for iOS. Google uses an asterisk to refer to Chrome's browser privacy option, calling it Incognito* mode, to call attention to the API limitations that prevent it from handling HTML5 local storage as securely as the desktop version of Chrome.

Apple enforces its API restriction as a matter of security, a rule that, coincidentally, ensures that Safari's competition can't really compete. Being handicapped on another company's hardware explains why Google might want to get into the hardware business, whether it's ready or not.

Yet, Google appears to be learning from Apple about the value of an iron hand. Its Android Platform Developer Kit represents an attempt to get its hardware partners and carriers to march with more coordination. Of course, we've been here before: At Google I/O 2011, Google launched the Android Update Alliance to combat Android fragmentation. It didn't work. Perhaps the sequel will find an audience.

Android 4.1, known as Jelly Bean, offers further proof of Google's penchant for recklessness. One of Jelly Bean's primary features is Project Butter, a UI fix. A smooth, responsive UI is the sort of thing Apple would have made a priority. Google, having iterated as rapidly as possible to catch up with Apple, is now getting back to basics.

But Jelly Bean isn't just sanding Android's rough edges. Smart app updating, improved notifications, and Android Beam enhancements show innovation in Android is alive and well. Perhaps most impressive is Google Now, which represents a bold attempt to re-imagine search on a mobile device. It's search combined with just-in-time delivery: Google Now will do things like alert you to traffic conditions before you leave for work. If you've grown jaded after years of hearing about the coming of intelligent agents, pay attention to Google Now.

Google tried to encourage people to pay attention to Google+, which can now help organize events. But Google's "social spine" isn't nearly as interesting as its commitment to cloud computing.

Google's decision to enter the infrastructure-as-a-service business with Google Compute Engine might seem inevitable in retrospect, but it will still shake things up. Massive computational power on demand--that's what change is made of.

As Google continues its mission to organize the world's information, it's reorganizing the social, technical, and commercial landscape in the process.

New apps promise to inject social features across entire workflows, raising new problems for IT. In the new, all-digital Social Networking issue of InformationWeek, find out how companies are making social networking part of the way their employees work. Also in this issue: How to better manage your video data. (Free with registration.)

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Apprentice
7/3/2012 | 3:57:46 PM
re: Google's Risky Business
If you had read two more sentences you would have seen that the author immediately explained that this is the result of the use of mandatory APIs in iOS that are incompatible with these features in Chrome.

One imagines that if Safari were made available in the other direction something similar would happen. That's one reason that Apple likely won't port Safari to other platforms. It wouldn't be an Apple experience.

There's no ignorance in describing the world as it is; the ignorance comes from so needing to validate one's identity and choices that one is not open to facts.
User Rank: Ninja
7/2/2012 | 3:04:56 PM
re: Google's Risky Business
It seems as though Schmitt's statements he once made in a speech are coming to pass. He said that Google will know more about us than we will know about ourselves, and that they will make decisions for us before we know we ant to make them.

Big brother at its best!

All of their current and future projects and products are aimed at making that Google controlled future possible. So how does Google make money from this? Sell everything they know about us to the Ad agencies. I'm already being to by people that when they IM, Ads about what they're talking about pop up. Exciting, right?
User Rank: Apprentice
7/2/2012 | 7:35:01 AM
re: Google's Risky Business
The problem I see with this article is you asume, risk and that there are privacy issues with all of googles new technologies. That isn't the case. Technology is in a state where the market is over saturated with new gadgets. I would liken it to Starbucks coffee shops. I like coffee and I stop by and get one from Starbucks coffee, but after that coffee I don't stop at the 20 other Starbucks shops I walk by on the way to work. I can admit that I own too much technology and can say that I live in the cyber world. I know people who are perinoid about buying things online or even opening up accounts on social websites. I make my money off of people like this. But as unsafe a world and computer environment that is out there, we all still strive and forge on. A lot of companies that were successful and inovative just a couple of decades ago couldn't make it today, you call it a risk, but people that don't take great risks aren't real inovators all great entrepreneurs. Most R&D shops won't give you a glimps into thier workshop to show you thier technology so you are talking about someone who has shared thier Idea with you and you are acting like a worried mother or a hater, in trying to look at how the project is going to fail before it even started. Google has a smart team and a lot of FU money that they can do whatever the F they like with. They decided to please the public and this is the way some tech reporters like to repay them for thier inovations. Thanks for the article.
User Rank: Apprentice
7/1/2012 | 7:59:04 PM
re: Google's Risky Business
Nice commentary. Google takes a lot of grief for its ambitions ... there are complaints everytime a product fails to take off. But the way to get successes is have a goal, try a lot of things, and run with the successes. Google is by far the best Internet company in this regard.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/30/2012 | 4:37:59 PM
re: Google's Risky Business
I stopped reading as soon I got to "Chrome's core principles are speed and security, yet Chrome for iOS comes with neither". What an ignorant hater.
How GIS Data Can Help Fix Vaccine Distribution
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  2/17/2021
Graph-Based AI Enters the Enterprise Mainstream
James Kobielus, Tech Analyst, Consultant and Author,  2/16/2021
11 Ways DevOps Is Evolving
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  2/18/2021
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you.
Flash Poll