Recently there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding a few services that Google is releasing in the coming year, but I’ve noticed something conspicuously absent from most articles about them: what they mean systemically for Google. I’ve got a few things that have been brewing in my mind about the implications of these services and what I think they will eventually come to mean to not just people on the cutting edge, but anyone who owns a cell phone or a computer. We’ll start with Chrome OS in order to provide a little context for the other two services: Wave and Voice.
Chrome: A cloud OS
Google Chrome Operating System
Google has implicitly been a supporter of cloud computing since its inception, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you access pretty much everything they have to offer through a web browser. What I find extremely exciting about Chrome OS is the fact that it shows explicit support for the cloud as a viable computing platform. They are confident enough in this platform to release an operating system whose sole function is to access it. I’m not even concerned as to whether or not the OS itself is a success because Chrome itself isn’t going to be that groundbreaking, you can already achieve all of the same functionality that it will afford on any existing computer running Windows, OSX or Linux. What I am interested in, and eagerly awaiting, is the paradigm shift in application development that Chrome heralds. There are already a few services that have seen the light, and understand that applications running in a browser are the only real way to ensure maximum compatibility across platforms, whether its your computer, cell phone, xbox or iPod, a web application can be made to work on all of these devices simultaneously. So Chrome doesn’t hold any significance for me from the standpoint of Google entering the OS market, it holds significance for me because it lets me know that Google is ready to rock on the cloud.
Riding The Wave
So this leads us to our next topic: Google Wave. Wave is a pretty good example of how to leverage the cloud as a platform. I won’t waste my breath detailing all of the features, it’s been reviewed ad nauseum by blog after blog, a quick search should turn up a ton of information about it. Something I will note about the service is that it’s a truly digital form of communication, and a much needed change of pace from email, which essentially just emulates the age old process of sending a letter to someone. Where this service gets interesting is in some of the features that it employs which we don’t traditionally associate with a web application, such as dragging and dropping files from your computer into the browser. It starts to blur the lines between what we would consider a desktop application, and a web application. And guess which browser is going to be the first to support such features? Google Chrome!
Voice, like GMail but for your phone calls
Google Voice is another example of an application running in the cloud, but it’s not quite as groundbreaking in its feature set, it really is just like gmail except instead of saving your emails, it saves your phone calls and text messages. The interesting thing to note about this service that I haven’t seen very widely discussed, is that it positions Google pretty well to become a cell service provider. There have been whispers of Google inserting audio ads before placing phone calls or listening to voice mails, but I think the patent filed by Google is being misinterpreted. The entire purpose of voice is to add convinience to your phonecalls, not take it away by adding ads. So then why is Google filing patents for voice ads? I’m pretty certain it’s because they want to provide free, or largely discounted cell service and supplement the cost of doing so by interspersing ads throughout.
So what does all of this mean?
These three services provide a picture of a new direction Google is headed. Their primary source of revenue is currently context specific advertising through their search and AdWords/AdSense products, but I think Google knows that they can’t own the search market forever, and they are starting to diversify. We’re starting to see a shift from Google’s core focus being on search, and a broadening of their focus into service based advertising. YouTube, Google Maps, Docs, Voice and Wave might not exactly be cash cows right now, but something they all have in common is that they are positioned for (or already enjoying) immensely wide exposure, and they all run on the cloud. This means that each of these services provides a wide range of eager consumers for Google to push their advertisements to, and in virtually each case their services are provided for free. In the case of Google Voice, AT&T has already seen the writing on the wall, leaning on Apple to deny the official Google Voice application from their App Store. Google has always been an innovative company, but as they start to foray into new markets I think we’ll see a lot of kicking and screaming from their competition. In any case, it’s an exciting time to be a web developer, here at Digital Operative we are already involved in the developer program for Google Wave, and several of us are in the beta release of Google Voice. The web changes rapidly and taking a cue from Google, it’s never too early to innovate.