Monday, December 14, 2009

Google’s Real Motivations Behind Chrome and the Google Phone

A friend, who is positioned in a way that he has a pretty good sense as to what Google might be thinking, points me to an article by former Google employee, Vijay Pandurangan.

Pandurangan writes (It's a little technical, but stick with it. It's fascinating and you will have Google's "game" figured out):

Google has two main aims with it's [Google Chrome operating system] project:

To use the Google brand and buzz about its “game-changing OS” to push for new and better web apps using nascent technology. This lets Google reduce its customers’ dependence on local apps it does not control.

Once a lot of these apps are deployed and become heavily used, the mass market will force owners of closed systems like the iPhone to implement support for HTML-5, the latest version of HTML, and rich web interfaces. Coupled with net neutrality (which Google is currently strongly supporting) this will allow Google to circumvent uncooperative devices and network providers, and access consumers currently hidden behind locked systems...

People these days mostly use their computers for a few key things: Internet browsing, dealing with email, writing documents, writing spreadsheets, playing music, watching video, and editing photos. As increasing numbers of people join the online world (especially in developing countries), users need to stay as happy with their Internet-related experiences. More happy users lead to more searches and more advertising revenue.

Google needs to ensure that the web and everything people use to access the web stays as open as possible. If closed ecosystems dominated by unfriendly companies, such as Apple (and its iPhone), and Microsoft (with Windows desktop and mobile) gain power, Google won’t have unfettered access to the end-user. To challenge them, Google needs to reduce switching costs and make users indifferent about which computing devices they use by commodifying them. The Chrome OS plan is to entice users to move as much data as possible into the “cloud”, making the data and apps transparently follow the user onto whatever device he or she happens to be using...

Let me repeat this: Success is not about whether a lot of people use Chrome OS. It’s about whether a lot of people end up using Web applications. This is a simple conclusion, really, but very profound. Even if everyone ends up using some other OS, as long as all the apps they use are web-based, Google wins, because its products can compete on a level playing field. Instead of building special applications that run on your OS and store files through proprietary methods, a web application will run on any device, making them the same from the consumer’s perspective. Critically, enhancements proposed in HTML-5 will allow them to run offline as well as online. (In fact, Chrome OS, being open source, will probably be forked into a less proprietary system distributed by any number of parties. Even if this hurts the user base of Google Chrome, Google wins)...

What about Android?

Android, Google’s operating system for mobile phones, is going to be BIG. Google desperately needs to prevent the iPhone from building increasing global market dominance in its current form. Android already provides a better hardware abstraction layer, better testing, limited interfaces, better security and includes a full-fledged browser. It satisfies pretty much all of the requirements set out by the public docs of Chrome OS, and already includes support for local applications. In two years, there will be an even larger group of Android apps available. Looking at why Google wants to create a new OS and not simply co-opt (or even fork) Android provides the most convincing evidence of my hypothesis yet — that Google is more concerned about the proliferation of web apps than the wide adoption of Chrome OS.


While Google would really love to have a large user base, even a Chrome OS with few users will not be a failure. The number of installs is secondary to the number of web-based applications that it fosters. Google will do everything in its power to make this happen. This includes building better web apps and cloud-based storage tools itself, and using its brand to scare other companies into building apps (for fear of missing out when Chrome OS gets big).

If Google promoted Android instead of Chrome OS, this strategy would not work; developers would simply focus on building Android apps. Android apps would help Google’s phones and make Android netbooks work nicely, but would not help Google penetrate other established and closed ecosystems. Getting the same apps to work across platforms is the key to success because it allows hardware commodification and easy migration paths between the systems.

And this is why Google is building Chrome OS.


  1. In related news:

    Mozilla's director of community development, Asa Dolzler - urges Firefox users to switch from using Google search to Microsoft Bing, over major privacy concerns:

  2. Cool - the internet/computer market remains unregulated enough to allow competition to prevent monopolization. An important part of the strategy VP outlines is :

    "To challenge them (Microsoft and Apple), Google needs to reduce switching costs and make users indifferent about which computing devices they use by commodifying them."

    This is exactly what we need in the medical care industry. Instead the government prohibts insurance companies from selling their product across state lines. IN addition, state licensing of Docs blurs the difference between them raising the cost of comparison shopping.

    What would really be revolutionary is if we could reduce the cost of switching between political and non-political problem solving. We need to eliminate the stangle-hold monopoly of politics.