Today’s Google still pays for yesterday’s mistakes

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This week, Google announced that it will combine Meet and Duo, but promised to keep the best features of both video calling apps in the joint venture. This kind of news is no longer so surprising. The company is known for regularly launching and then relentlessly abandoning apps and services. So much so that we have a Google graveyard that documents every short-lived project it has undertaken.

My instinctive reaction, and that of many people who got stuck on the Google rollercoaster—messaging in particular—was a resigned sigh. Are we really getting the best of both apps? Can Google’s teams even pull off a merger like this without losing at least part of it? Of course they screw up, I thought, because that’s their modus operandi.

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But when I read more about the news, especially The edge‘s report that contains a few choice quotes from two Googlers, I had to correct my knee-jerk reaction. I see greater logic at play, despite the myriad of messaging and calling apps and strategies we’ve had over the past decade (Google Talk > Hangouts > Duo > Meet and Chat > ​​the new Google Meet). There’s finally a sense that Google “gets it,” despite the convoluted way the transition will take place.

The Google that was overflowing with ideas and lacking a clear vision and direction is no more.

Crucially, though, this consolidation is yet another sign in a long, long series of decisions that seem to be aimed at cleaning up the remaining mess of a Google that, from where I’m sitting, doesn’t really exist anymore.

I’m talking about the end of a Google that played fast and loose with projects, launching new ones every few weeks and killing just as many in the same span of time. A Google that kept realizing that projects it had been working on for years no longer fit in with its broader strategy. Or worse, another internal team had already implemented something similar with no user-facing connection between the two. A Google that introduced Nexus tablets, then Pixel tablets, then Chrome tablets, then abandoned tablets altogether, only to announce a new Pixel tablet for 2023.

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That Google seems to be on the decline. I think the characters have been there for a while, but I finally started putting them all together after I/O 2022. During the main conference, I felt a clear change. Google talked about an ecosystem, about products and services that work together, and about all the things I, as a loyal Android user of the past 11 years, wanted to hear. For once, there was a clear line between the various announcements and a single-minded goal to make each product work with the rest.

There is a clear line between the various announcements and a deliberate goal to make this product work with that product.

Like I said, the signs have been there for a while:

  • Google has discontinued the separate Nest app and moved all smart home controls to the consolidated Home app.
  • It turned G Suite into Workspace, providing tight integration between Gmail, Calendar, and Drive, the three essential tools for every employee and business.
  • It left Play Music in favor of YouTube Music as most people were already consuming their music on YouTube anyway.
  • It went back to the awful new Google Pay app and went for a better Google Wallet experience.
  • It brought down Inbox, its dual email interface, and decided to focus on the most important product everyone uses: Gmail.
  • It left the standalone Trips app in favor of a trip planning experience integrated into Search, because how do you plan your trips? You start looking.
  • It has integrated its visual search engine for the world, Lens, in the camera, photos, search, internet and many facets of its services.
  • It abandons the side project of running Android Auto on phone screens and focuses instead on the display of the car.

Related: Android Auto Problems and How to Fix Them

Of course, many of these transitions (and countless others I’ve probably forgotten) haven’t gone too smoothly. And sure enough, there are still many disgruntled Play Music and older G Suite users. But if you look at the big picture, you can see that one targeted product is better than two or three that do some, but not all, of the same things and don’t integrate well with each other.

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Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

One obvious manifestation of this new Google, and one I’ve mentioned a few times recently, is how quickly major Google apps have adopted the new Material You design aesthetic. Remember when it took over two years for the original material design to reach just a few Google apps? Or when Google Maps got a dark mode in early 2021, two years after dark mode support was introduced in the first Android 10 betas? By comparison, most apps were Material You ready for the Pixel 6 series launch just months after the updated design language was introduced. The old Google could never have done this.

We used to see glimpses of collaboration between Google’s products, but if you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll notice there were limitations everywhere.

Google is now more focused on building an ecosystem. Building on the success of the Pixel 6, it aims to integrate phones, tablets, watches, earbuds, smart home devices, and more. It’s had the puzzle pieces for years, but they don’t work very well together. We used to get glimpses of the collaboration between them, little hints that our phone and watch might be talking to the same voice assistant or that our computer might be casting content to our TV, for example. But scratch under the surface and you’d notice there were limitations. Google Assistant doesn’t have the same capabilities on phones and watches (let alone speakers and computers). The YouTube experience differs slightly between phones, desktops, smart TVs, and cast instances; I still don’t understand how you can for example not create a queue on mobile but on the web or when your phone is casting.

We debate: Is Google’s Ecosystem Pushing Too Much Too Fast?

But during I/O, Google showed ways to move things between your phone and tablet. And just two days ago, we saw an improved YouTube experience between phones and smart TVs. Near Share is slowly turning into a real Apple AirDrop competitor. Chrome OS’s Phone Hub evolves into a solid link between your phone and computer. Fast Pair is ubiquitous among accessories, bridging the gap between them and our phones.

Close sharing on Android

Joe Hindy / Android Authority

Maybe I’m too optimistic. Maybe I’m interpreting the signs the way I want. But in a way I see a more Apple-esque approach here. There is an obvious effort to consolidate, streamline, plan ahead and stick to the plan, rather than going where the wind blows and changing strategies in the blink of an eye. There is now a clear vision and I am more confident betting on success than on failure. (And just to be clear, I don’t expect the cool side projects to stop, but I don’t think they’ll be at the forefront like Inbox or Allo or Daydream once were.)

If a ship is off course, it must travel a few miles in murky waters before returning to its original path.

But as we go down this road with the company, there will no doubt be more abandoned projects and more unpopular decisions. The merger of Duo and Meet will certainly not be the last. If a ship is off course, it must travel a few miles in murky waters before returning to its original path. And that’s where we are now. Today’s Google is different, but it still pays for the mistakes of yesterday’s Google, and it will be a while before we see the real path we’re on.

Do you think Google is more focused now than in previous years?

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