Looks like Google is struggling to invent the future

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Earlier this week, Google made serious budget cuts to its Area 120 startup incubator, halting half of its projects. according to TechCrunch. The goal of Area 120 was to give Google employees a place to experiment or pursue their passion projects, in the hope that they would stumble upon the next big idea, such as Adsense, Gmail or Google News.

But as the economy has turned, it seems that Google is losing its stomach for big betting and experimentation, instead trying to focus its efforts on what makes money today (or services it really just needs). has run despite losing money, like Google Cloud). Instead of challenging employees to spend 20 percent of their time building crazy apps, CEO Sundar Pichai says the company must be 20 percent more efficient and productive. In a memo earlier this summer, he urged employees to be “more entrepreneurial,” but it read more like a demand to work harder and find ways to cut costs rather than bark trees that may or may not be future. pays off.

That perception has also penetrated outside the company. According to a recent report from The informationSome recruiters looking to hire employees for startups are starting to look away from Google, under the impression that the tech giant’s employees mainly maintain legacy products rather than build new ones.

The Pixel series feels less innovative than it used to be, and it’s hard to see that changing anytime soon

One of the places where this idea comes out most clearly is the company’s hardware. Earlier this week, we reported that Google canceled a Pixelbook project that was “deep in development” to cut costs, essentially leaving it to other companies to move the Chromebook category forward.

As my colleague Monica Chin pointed out, the original Pixelbook felt more like a halo device meant to inspire other manufacturers and show what was possible with Chromebooks rather than something Google actually expected people to buy. While we don’t know if the canceled Chromebook would have had the same ethos, it’s safe to say launching a laptop wouldn’t be a guaranteed home run for Google – according to market analysis company IDC, the company isn’t even in the top five Chromebook manufacturers in terms of market share or units shipped. Google should convince people to choose its laptop over trusted brands like Acer, HP or Lenovo, something it apparently hasn’t done on any scale with the 2019 Pixelbook Go (perhaps because of its rather steep starting price of $649). .

Other parts of Google’s Pixel lineup also feel less bold than they used to. Do you remember the Pixel 4, which came with a radar sensor, or the Pixel 2, which introduced squeezable sides to Google’s phones? Those were nice, cool features that gave you a good reason to consider a Pixel. Everything we’ve seen about the Pixel 7 so far makes it seem like it’ll be a relatively minor upgrade, complete with a very similar design to its predecessor. We’ll find out on October 6 if that’s really the case, but I won’t be shocked if there’s nothing shocking about Google’s next phones.

However, it would be unfair to say that Google isn’t doing anything new when it comes to Pixels. After all, it is adding both a smartwatch and a tablet to its range. Neither seems to push any boundaries, though, especially the latter, which has a design that feels years outdated now and will likely feel even more so next year after we get a fresh new crop of iPads. Rather than being halo devices that inspire other manufacturers, it just feels like Google is catching up with Samsung (and at this point it’s unclear if these devices will even be competitive).

This phenomenon is not entirely new to Google and is not just limited to hardware. Google is infamous for abandoning projects shortly after they launched, and sometimes even earlier – only in the past year or so has it turned on plans to integrate banking into Google Pay (which has now largely been replaced by a reincarnated Google Wallet), mostly done gone with its YouTube Originals program and Stadia is no longer a game streaming service, but more of a white-label technology that companies can use for demos and add-ons for mobile subscriptions. But there’s a difference between giving up on selected projects and shifting your culture to be more conservative toward experimentation. State with certainty which of those Google actions require more data, but steps like transferring assets from a failed experiment to a startup and then investing in the company feel less ambitious than restarting the project itself.

All of this isn’t to say that Google has come to a complete standstill – it’s clear that its core apps and services continue to get new features, redesigns, and tweaks. And it’s not that Google has stopped throwing everything at the messaging platform wall. The company spends nearly $10 billion quarterly on research and development — that money is clearly going somewhere. But I’d find it hard to think about the company’s recent work that actually made me sit up and think, “Wow!” Sure, I like to watch TikTok every now and then, but on YouTube, and I appreciate that Google makes Android more customizable and web tracking a little less scary, but those changes are incremental, not revolutionary.

Google’s recent innovations don’t feel like the future

Perhaps one of the reasons it’s been hard to get excited about Google’s efforts is its focus on innovation. It recently introduced a series of changes to Workspace, adding “chips” that allow you to combine your documents, spreadsheets, reminders, and even meetings and emails. It also pays some attention to Meet, its Zoom competitor. But while these changes have probably made people’s work lives a little easier, adding new features to an office suite doesn’t exactly seem to me like swinging to the fence to build the future.

Even if Google stopped all experimentation completely, it would probably survive — its services are anchored in the way nearly everyone uses the Internet today. But if it doesn’t take a big commitment, coming up with the next Gmail, Google Assistant, or ChromeOS will be difficult, and it’ll be nearly impossible to help invent new categories of technology, such as self-driving cars or ambient. computing. If companies want to attract the kind of people who are going to build the future, they need to be the kind of place where people can really get on their feet and not worry about getting in trouble for barking up the wrong tree. It would be a shame if Google became a company where it wasn’t.

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