One of the most interesting stories at Macworld hasn't gotten a lot of attention in the larger press - namely that Google was around at Macworld a lot more than most people realize. It's not just that they have a medium-sized booth featuring both their Mac products and new iPhone-compatible web offerings. No, the real story about Google at Macworld is that it's very clear that Google has the iPhone on their collective mind in a big, big way.
Google's services will continue to be great on the iPhone even after their Android OS hits the market. Read on to find out why!
Google In Line for the Keynote
Michael Ducker and I covered the Macworld keynote this year1 - we lined up at 3am and were lucky that we did - I spoke with somebody that lined up at 5am and was forced into the overflow room.
I mention this because there was a large pack of Google employees at the very front of the line. There were about 20 at a time, "working" in shifts, so that there was a grand total of around 40 or 50 employees there who came in line when the keynote started. That probably caused some grumbling amongst those in back. The Googlers went so far as to have stockpiles of pizza, coffee, and even a tent (originally three until the cops said no) for sleeping.
The interesting thing, though, as Valleywag reported, was that this was a regular and company-sponsored sort of effort, right down to Google's Vice President, Search Products & User Experience Marissa Mayer leading the charge. What's her explanation?
"The man gives a great presentation. Hopefully we can learn something."
...that's a very nice and understated way of saying something else: Google seems to have a fixation on the iPhone.
It's not just the line at Macworld, it's that as we waited in line a Google employee got bored and did a survey of how many people in line were using iPhones - both actively and whether or not there was one in their pocket. It's not just the booth at Macworld where Google was showing off their new iPhone-optimized services, it's that they come out with iPhone optimized services on a regular basis. They update these services on a regular basis. These services work really well on the iPhone.
Case in point: Gmail, more specifically Gmail's new IMAP service. I've used Gmail with a browser on my desktop, with Mail.app, with Thunderbird, with Outlook, with Windows Mobile Outlook, Versamail on PalmOS, and a few others. I'm not exaggerating when I say that no client, desktop or otherwise, does Gmail IMAP better than the iPhone. I say this as a person who generally thinks the the iPhone's email client sucks. But every other client has bogged down or otherwise acted weird with Gmail's IMAP. Not so with the iPhone, it's as good as email gets on the iPhone. That's either serendipity or Google thinking very seriously about the email client on the iPhone when they designed their (quirky) IMAP implementation.
...A popular phrase among developers (especially, believe it or not, among Windows Mobile developers) is "eating your own dog food." The idea, basically, is that if you're working on something you need to use it. It seems pretty clear to me that there is a large portion of Google employees who are eating the iPhone-brand of dog food. I'm guessing that Google's apps rock on the iPhone because they want those apps to rock on the iPhone because they use them on the iPhone.
Which leads us to Android, Google's upcoming Smartphone Operating System. We here at Phone different never really believed that Android would compete directly with the iPhone and the more I hear about Android the more I think it's aimed at a broader (read: cheaper) market. Back in November, Mike wrote:
Google's use of webkit as the browser on Android reinforces Apple, and by the time Android phones are actually released, iPhones will be even farther ahead in terms of features -- Android doesn't even support wi-fi or bluetooth yet. It could easily be that Apple is trying to grab the high-end customers and Android is aiming for everyone else.
...While we should admit that these days the "high-end" is getting bigger and pushing more into the mass market than we may have expected, the point still stands. Google is putting development resources into quality web apps for the iPhone. Even if we grant (as we should) that development is easy for iPhone web apps, resources are resources. Yes, even for Google. Those resources, presumably, could have been redirected at Android either to make it better or to keep the iPhone from having a great Google experience.
No doubt about it, Google hearts the iPhone.
So when Steve Jobs was asked about Android, his take was almost spot-on:
"I actually think Google has achieved their goal without Android, and I now think Android hurts them more than it helps them. It's just going to divide them and people who want to be their partners."
There are basically two options here, and I see them as equally likely:
- Google is trying to be the uber-service to everybody, everywhere, on every device possible. They're a bigger giant now than even Microsoft of the 90's and their plan for world domination includes offering great services even on "competing" devices. They will overcome the problem Jobs mentions through sheer size and resources.
- Google does not foresee a time when Android would "divide them and people who want to be their partners" because, as far as the mobile space goes, the only thing they're trying to win is the low-end space. They want Microsoft and Nokia's pieces of the commodity pie, not Apple's media-centric market.
I'll take the easy out and suggest that it's mostly option 1 with a side of option 2. There may be a day when Android competes directly with the iPhone and Google finds itself in the awkward place of deciding whether or not to favor one over the other. Given the timeline of Android development, though, that day is a long way off. In the meantime, it's a safe bet that Google will continue to do a great job supporting the iPhone. And vice versa.
1 Ducker took our photos and I gotta say I think they turned out better than most others' (see his Macbook Air gallery, for example).