While this a bit off the beaten path here at iPad Insight, a discussion about Google is still fitting anywhere technology is covered. Never mind the fact that Apple and Google are head-to-head rivals in many areas, but there are still many iOS users who take advantage of multiple Google services on their devices. Despite pulling back in some areas over time, I still use a few myself.
However, on top of my overall dislike of Google’s business model and utopian fantasies tinged with just enough distopia to make them cringeworthy, I have found a more pressing reason to avoid going further into Google’s ecosystem. The fact is, many of them have a remarkably short shelf life. What I find strange is that this lack of longevity doesn’t just apply to low profile and “unsuccessful” services. Popular and useful items like Google Reader and Google Now also get the ax with alarming regularity.
The latest apparent victims of this trend seem to be messaging app Allo, which we found out about a few days ago, and now Google Play Music, which was reported a couple of days ago. Allo development is technically being “paused,” but we all know what that means with Google’s track record. It’s a dead service walking, and won’t be around for long once Google’s one millionth new messaging service, Chat, gets off the ground. According to the latest rumors, Google Play Music is likely to be replaced by a new YouTube-based music service called YouTube Remix.
I decided to write about this because I actually used to be a Google Play Music subscriber. I messed around with Spotify for a bit when it became available in the US, but their app wasn’t very good at the time and the service didn’t feel worth $10 per month to me then. When Google Play Music All-Access became available in June of 2013, I gave it a try because Google had a promo rate of $7.99 for early adopters. Apple wasn’t in the streaming game yet, so it made sense to take the better deal and save a couple of bucks a month. I never just loved Google Play Music, but it got the job done, was cheaper than the competition, and was available cross-platform. It was good enough that I stuck with it for two years. However, those strengths weren’t enough to keep me paying for it once Apple Music was released.
Looking back, I’m glad I bailed when I did. I have absolutely no desire to spend any more time than I have to on YouTube, so the thought of being bound to it to get my music makes me glad that I’m already down the road. But there are going to be a few million people that are still paying users of Play Music who will get force marched over to what is likely going to be a very different product. I’m sure Google already knows that a certain percentage won’t be happy about it, and that many of them will leave for another service.
In my opinion, the problem is that Google repeatedly demonstrates that they couldn’t care less about stranded or inconvenienced users. Wave. Talk. Reader. Google Plus, Picasa, Voice, Hangouts, etc. Some were killed off, while others were just abandoned or stripped for parts. The point is that you have entire websites devoted to the “Google Graveyard” for a reason. They have a big one, full of products that weren’t broken and had loyal users, but they killed off or abandoned anyway.
This is the downside of the free and “open,” ad supported mentality. It’s been said many times, and I will repeat it here again- we aren’t Google’s customers. We are their product. That’s the case when it comes to the ad tech and sales that is still the core of their business model. As such, they aren’t necessarily accountable to us. Well, it’s at least apparent to me by their actions that they don’t believe they are. However, I and many others in the tech community think Google is shortsighted in this regard. They SHOULD be more accountable to users of their services than they currently are.
Think about it. If you are depending on any Google product outside of Search, Maps, or Docs, you run a real risk of being left high and dry. Google Home? Just look at all the TV and router products that came before their answer to the Amazon Echo. If another team develops something the brass likes more (think Assistant vs Google Now), they likely won’t merge them. They will kill one and keep the other. It’s what they’ve done for two decades. Even supposed sacred cows like Android and Chrome aren’t safe- from each other, or from Fuchsia, whatever it turns out to be.
Situations like these are exactly why I use the stock iOS Notes app for my important work notes today. I relied on Evernote for years, but it isn’t going anywhere and their pricing is a mess now. I tried to switch to OneNote, only to find that it is difficult to export content out, at least on mobile, but that’s where I use note taking apps the most. It’s sync feature also broke down on me twice while trying to work on customer quotes on job sites. That was the end of that.
I know some people, including a former employee of the company I work for, who love Google Keep. He forced the issue and we shared some job site notes for a couple of projects we were both involved in with it. However, based on Google’s history and track record with services, I can’t understand why anyone would depend on that app for important notes related to their job. There’s no way I’m exporting my customer site notes and quotes a third time to something so potentially volatile.
I will admit that I’ve always been a little suspicious of Google. Not as much their current leadership (although I can’t help but think back to those good old “Google Island” comments from a few years ago and laugh a little), but the enormous power that the company has. They may seem to be somewhere between a benign to a positive influence on society, but their singular hold on technology, especially the Internet, should concern everyone. At the end of the day, they are no non-profit. Google is a publicly traded company, which means they have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to deliver maximum profits and return on investment.
They are currently successful enough that no one is actively pressing them to push the boundaries of their power in the interest of taking more control, making more money, and driving share prices higher. However, as we see over and over in the world of technology, nothing lasts forever. Facebook’s recent woes and plunging user trust ratings are just one of many testaments to that. If Google were ever to run into some financial difficulties, we could find ourselves staring at a far different beast with someone less scrupulous at the helm and looking to cash in. That would be enough to make anyone long for the days of Larry and Sergey.
This may sound like a disjointed rant, but I believe all of these issues go together. Google’s willingness to kill of products may be a by-product of their startup-like culture, but the fact is, they aren’t a startup anymore. They have real customers who pay them money directly, not just through looking at ads and giving up massive amounts of data. They need to act like the grown up company that they are in this regard. That means paying closer attention to their users, rather than taking us for granted.
Who knows. Maybe YouTube Remix will be more successful than YouTube Red. Maybe Google’s new Chat will take the world by storm. However, it is far more likely that they will only do a little better than their predecessors. In two years, I have a feeling we may be right back here talking about Google’s next messaging app and newest flavor subscription music service, and why it’s ALL going to be different….this time.