Google's next act: Diversify and conquer

Center stage at this year's Google I/O was a company honing its vision for a future beyond search

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BetterCloud's Politis sees Google's close-and-refocus strategy as part of a larger push to make Google+ the true center of user activity with Google: "You can already see evidence of this in nearly every category: Google Authorship, heavy integration with Glass, Google+ comment integration with Blogger, Google+ sign-in, Local, etc."

To Politis, this is how Google+ will stand out from competing social networks -- by being "at the center of your life" with all of Google's services at one's disposal: Gmail, Google Apps, Drive, and so on. "Google is just looking for products that have the potential to reach a billion users," Politis says. "Their business is at such a huge scale now, what's the purpose of keeping something that doesn't have the potential to do that?"

What about Chromebook or Chrome OS, which many analysts see as outliers in the Google ecosystem? Politis doesn't agree. "[Chromebook/Chrome OS] fits in with Google's overall worldview -- everything should exist in the browser," Politis says. "This goes hand in hand with Google Apps, Gmail, Drive, Search. Google is a company 'born of a digital environment' and nothing displays this better than Chrome OS."

Politis himself uses a Chromebook Pixel "every single day" and claims he is able to do all his work in the browser. "When I don't have Internet access (something that's increasingly rare), there's Gmail and Drive offline."

Google App Engine and Google Compute Engine: An uphill battle worth fighting

Less visible to the consumer, but crucial to developers and businesses, are Google's cloud services offerings. Google Compute Engine and Google App Engine -- IaaS (infrastructure as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service) offerings, respectively -- compete in a crowded market that includes Microsoft, Amazon, HP, and others. Here, Google must play catch-up against established competitors, as well as relative newcomers with captive markets. As such, to gain a foothold, it is crucial for Google to innovate -- all the more so, given that they are among the few services Google sells directly to users, without monetizing them through ads or search.

One way Google could differentiate its IaaS and PaaS offerings would be through simplicity.

"Google may finally find a way to penetrate the large enterprise market that has largely pushed back on the use of public IaaS" by making Google Compute Engine manifestly simpler than the competition, said InfoWorld cloud computing blogger David S. Linthicum, a year ago.

While Google may not have created a true turnkey IaaS, it is inching closer to this on multiple fronts by offering products with more granularity than just instance sizes. Consider App Engine, which allows customers to run apps in Python or Java without managing an actual server or cloud. At Google I/O this past week, Google added beta support for Google's own Go language and PHP, one of the most widely used languages on the Web. Most PaaS vendors focus squarely on a specific programming language.

Such a move hints at how Google can compete aggressively: By giving its customers as much or as little of the stack as they need, and by giving them kinds of granularity that don't exist elsewhere.

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