Android and Chrome. Google’s Trojan horses for most of their innovation and competitive edge.
While they are doing this using open sourcing these products and providing them to the community, they are keeping a tight leash of control around the focus of these products – just ask Andreas Constantinou about how he thinks Google will be using Motorola and their Android:
“1. In the software dictatorship scenario (which we take as the default option), Google would make it untenable for OEMs not to follow its software specifications to the letter or to fork Android. Google stays true to its core ad business and divests everything apart from patents to a Taiwanese OEM wanting to break into the North America market.”
You can be sure that the second scenario will drive OEMs towards the same goal – it’s a very interesting and recommended read.
The more interesting part, is how Google are actually using these two tools to get an edge over competition. Here are a few examples.
Google is all about speed – how fast they can serve their customers with search results and ads. That is at least how Bob Cringely sees it. In a very interesting post about how Google employs Carson’s speed, he notes how Google running hardware in less than maximum CPU speeds to gain the most out of their data centers:
“That would be Carson’s speed — the speed to get the most extra speed for the least extra cost. Or, as Carson put it, of finding “the least wasteful way of wasting.” For aircraft the speed in question turned out to be 1.32 times the speed for most miles per gallon (the Bruguet Number). Carson’s Speed uses excess power most efficiently.
Other than three G-V’s and one Boeing 767 built for a harem, Google flies data centers, not airplanes. But Google’s situation going into its power experiment was actually very similar to aviation because it was an exercise in reducing power. Google data centers weren’t built to Bruguet specs, they were faster. Given this excess computing power that had already been paid for in capital terms, what was the most efficient way of using it? Carson’s Speed — about 43 percent power — leaving plenty of excess cycles for new services like Instant Search.”
I’d like to take it a step further: as speed is the most essential to Google, when they saw its inefficiencies, decided to do something about it. It wasn’t trying to improve HTTP by aiming for a new version of it, but rather starting from scratch and coming up with a new protocol: SPDY.
And how do you make a new protocol into a standard? With 2 years already for SPDY, it seems like it still isn’t in the IETF in any meaningful way yet. So the next best thing (or the really best thing) for Google was to make it a standard de-facto: their Chrome browser has it implemented already. And if you access any of Google’s web services, Google just might decide to use SPDY instead of HTTP to serve you (which they have started doing).
If up until now, Google used the web and speeding up the web to compete with desktop applications (mainly Microsoft), it is now able of competing directly with any other cloud based company – they are still going to be SPDYer.
And while Chrome isn’t the most used browser (yet), think about mobile now – Android is a large part of the market… where Google’s browser is used by default – and connectivity to Google’s own services on Android are controlled by Google.
When Google acquired On2 it was for their VP8 video codec. A year down the road, it renamed it as WebM and open sourced it. The next logical step was to add Chrome support to it (and get an ecosystem of companies around it).
The idea was to get rid of the patent payments on the H.264, but I think it was also to control the video parts of the web.
And again – with Chrome, Android and the ecosystem they built around it, they are in a good position to compete with others who are interested in media (think Microsoft and Apple).
As they control Chrome and Android, it can be expected to see WebRTC being integrated into them soon enough, with a clear aim of disrupting the voice and video communication market.
Without Chrome and Android, none of the initiatives above, as well as others that Google are promoting, wouldn’t come to play.
These initiatives are playing a unique role in driving Google’s innovation and competitive edge now. They give away these technologies as open source contributions, which builds an ecosystem and drives adoption. While their competitors can take these technologies just as easily – they will always be playing the game as followers in such a case.