Google has a ball in every court. The king of search is always attempting to stretch its reach, marking its territory in every corner of the worldwide Web that it possibly can. And while this has inarguably made it a major contender in all things digital, Google has naturally earned itself a few rivals along the way.
And the Mountain View giant has no intentions of playing nice. Google’s ready to use every weapon in its arsenal against the competition, and it won’t stop until it’s established itself all over the Web, and the world. As powerful as Google is though, we have to wonder: Is it spreading itself a little too thin? But if anyone can, while retaining profit and prestige, it’s certainly Google.
Here’s a look at three of its biggest competitors, the moves it’s making to crack open hardened battle lines and establish a foothold on every mountain, and our best guesses as to whether it will succeed.
Google vs. Apple
Up until the mobile market exploded, Google and Apple didn’t have beef. Sure, Safari was a Chrome competitor, but other than that the two were largely making their money in separate sectors. But once iOS established itself as an innovator on the mobile platform and Google fell into chase with Android, it was on. Since then, the lay of the digital land has undergone some serious transformation, and both Google and Apple have been paving the way. Naturally, this has led to some competition, and one of the most well-publicized and documented rivalries of the tech world.
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Apple had a head start in smartphones. The iPhone was introduced in the summer of 2007, since claiming millions of customers who have never looked back. Android didn’t come claim its first phone until November of 2008. The OS has had an uphill battle, but the niche platform grew as it refined its technology and partnered with increasingly sophisticated manufacturers. As tablets began infiltrating the market, the competition extended there as well.
So of course, cue the name calling. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has been incredibly critical of iOS’ main rival, and he hasn’t held back. He once said “Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone,” and more than once he has said the platform’s fragmentation will lead to its demise. Google’s shot back by constantly comparing its open, developer-friendly OS to Apple’s tightly closed doors.
Android’s been able to make a serious dent in what could have been an even more Apple-dominated market. The iPhone remains on top of its game, but Android has become the most popular OS according to recent surveys, and it’s replaced Symbian as the top global smartphone seller. Its tablet game is improving with the launch of Honeycomb, and it’s becoming increasingly popular with app developers. Still, nothing has quite been proven to drive interest like even the whisper of a new iOS device, so the battle between these two is just beginning.
Chrome OS goes head to head with Macs
Competition between Google and Apple doesn’t stop at the mobile market: It marches right on ahead to include PCs. Google’s Chrome Web browser has been a popular platform in the last few years, and evolved into Google’s concept of a completely cloud-based OS.
Chrome OS was introduced in late 2010, complete with a Google concept laptop, the CR-48. While both are still in beta testing (we think…it’s been awhile since Google or the Chromium team have released any updates), the system itself is a leap from traditional operating systems. It’s entirely Web-based with no installed software, and users are forever inside Chrome tabs. Of course, Mac OS is an established platform, and one that shows no signs of losing even close to a significant amount of users to Chrome. Sure, the Google team can stress the openness of its own OS and hype cloud-based storage all they want, but it can’t compete on a large scale with Apple’s Mac market. Also not helping? Google already has a reputable OS: Android. Sure, it’s only for mobile, but such separate branding isn’t winning it any notoriety or building on an established fan base.
The creator of Gmail even said Chrome OS is doomed to be killed off or merged with Android, and all Google will say is that it’s still experimenting with the program. In Chrome’s defense, one really good weapon it brought to compete with Mac is the Chrome Web Store. It got a leg up on the Mac App Store with its earlier launch, and thus far has been fairly popular with Chrome users. That’s not to say that the Mac App Store’s numbers haven’t blown it out of the water (they have), but it’s important for Google to offer consumers choices in this arena and its product is doing this much.
Winner: Mac OS
Continue to Google vs. Facebook
Google vs. Facebook
The minute Facebook established itself as the social networking site, Google should have known it had missed a giant opportunity. Even while MySpace was flourishing, it didn’t have the brand recognition or reputability of Google – and in swept Facebook, taking over social and irreversibly changing the face of the Internet. And since then, Google’s been scrambling to fight back.
Social media consultant Andrew David Baron told us that Google will have to fight the standards Facebook has set to become a notable contender. “Apple made a whole, entire genre with the iPad and iPhone…it’s the same thing with social media,” he explains. “[Google needs to] do something and do something quick.”
The birth and death of Google Me
We all remember the disaster of Google Buzz’s debut. The social layer, introduced in 2010, resulted in little more than mass confusion and $8.5 million in lawsuits for Google. In short, it’s one of the more poorly executed Google products and definitely wasn’t an able Facebook competitor. A previous attempt, Orkut, is barely worth mentioning. It does remain popular in India and parts of South America, however it was laughable to other markets.
Google’s been prepping a social platform for some time now, though, something to at least challenge Facebook as we would understand. In September, then-CEO Eric Schmidt said we could expect something in the social arena by the end of the year. Clearly, that’s come and gone, and all we’ve gotten are a few screen shots, some internal code names, and possibly the first glimpse at what’s going to be a very light, layered approach to social. Some might even say indistinguishable.
Of course, Google has been investing more of its time and money into its geo-social, local applications. So maybe it’s just a matter of switching gears, but as Facebook starts to tread on some longstanding Google territory (ahem, firstname.lastname@example.org) we have to imagine an effective social platform is in the works.
Facebook refuses to share and share alike
When Schmidt first began talking about Google’ social networking product, he pointedly said if Facebook weren’t willing to enter into a two-way sharing option with Google, the company would find other ways to get the information. Well, up until now Facebook hasn’t relinquished the user info, Google hasn’t found a way to extract it, and in return has tried to take its own data away from the world’s largest social network (which, if you remember, Facebook found a loophole to get around).
As a last measure in the user-data battle, Google simply issued a message to users trying to export their Gmail data to Facebook. Titled “Trap my contacts now,” the note pressures readers to keep from putting their information into a place that won’t give it back, and to allow Google to register a complaint over the issue on their behalf. Google all but pulls the “cough, Facebook, cough” move here.
There’s been no progress on the matter, and users can and do still import their Gmail contacts into Facebook – and Facebook appears to have no interest in returning the favor. Just to add insult to injury, Facebook recently announced it will require developers to create apps with Facebook-approved advertisers only. You guessed it: Google-owned AdSense and Double Click didn’t make the list.
And this particular race has long term consequences. “Facebook has so many users with so much data that is doesn’t even need Google anymore…what’s going to happen is Facebook is going to become its own micro-search engine and then people will go into Facebook and just stay there.” It’s scary to think that the social network could eventually best Google at its own game.
Continue to Google vs. Microsoft
Google vs. Microsoft
It’s hard to remember that Google isn’t truly a computing veteran. When it comes to Microsoft, Google can be considered a fetus. Nonetheless, the company stepped into the ring and took on the computing expert.
Battle for the cloud contracts: Government and K12
Last year, Google sued the US government for not fairly considering a bid for its business. The company’s business apps were going head to head with the old corporate veteran, Microsoft Office BPOS, and according to Google, the US government was edging out any competition.
Google is similarly making a play for public school contracts, and according to reported numbers, it’s doing a pretty good job. Google boasts 10 million Apps for Education users, compared to longstanding contract holder Microsoft’s 15 million.
The Oregon state education system was a recent coup for Google, when in April 2010 educators were given the option to choose Google Apps. Still, Oregon’s largest city, Portland, decided to go with Live@edu for its cloud computing solutions. Jenna Mason-Steinberg with Portland Public School District tells us that after exploring Google and Microsoft cloud options and running in-depth analysis of the two, Live@edu was the better choice. In addition to brand and UI familiarity, one important reason was support. “We felt like we would be able to maintain existing support for users with Live@edu,” she noted, mentioning that Google itself does not provide real-time resolution for IT support. “We already had a strong relationship with Microsoft, we knew we could get an engineer on the phone if something went wrong.” Her district makes the move to Live@edu in July 2011.
While Google may have a bit of an uphill battle when it comes to government institutions, it is winning over some members of the corporate world. Motorola is one such company, and VP of IT for mobile devices Walt Oswald says he got on board with Google Apps because of “the mass computing power that Google has, and that ability to take that computing power and deliver it in a secure way to an enterprise.” Of course, he also adds that the low price tag doesn’t hurt.
Winner: Draw (Microsoft has veteran status, but Google Apps are effectively infiltrating)
Search engine scuffles
Bing is easily one of Google’s most able competitors these days, considering it now powers other form search contenders like Yahoo. So naturally, the two search engines have entered into competition against one another – but recently, Google decided to out Bing for what it considered to be shady business practices. According to the Mountain View company, Microsoft’s search engine had been copying Google’s own search results, and through a series of setup tests and concluding evidence, it had Bing right where it wanted it. Google called out Bing and hurled statements about feeling cheated, and Bing responded by sticking out its proverbial tongue and defending its completely legal practices.
The conclusion? There was some minor and short-lived fallout for Bing, which maybe suffered a small reputation setback. But Google is still the king of search, and during the copycat fiasco also came the news that Google had cut its malware attacks in half, while Bing’s increased.
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