Thursday, May 20, 2010

A strange feeling about Google.

I have this strange feeling about Google. About how they seem dead-set on competing with Apple everywhere they can, even though they're really terrible at the things Apple is good at. And even though Apple isn't particularly good at the things Google is good at. And even though Google has such a mind-numbingly large head start in their two crucial technologies - search and contextual ads - that a company like Apple most likely can't pose any kind of existential threat any time soon, even if they do end up dominating the "rich mobile ad" market. Google was never any good at rich media ads to begin with.

The feeling: it's as if Schmidt went to a board meeting at Apple one day and a lightbulb went on above his confused little head, and he heard a choir of angels on a stack of pinheads say: they're making serious money with this shit! We can do that too!

But the thing is, on the evidence they actually can't.

Google has already proven, with YouTube, that it's perfectly willing to lose billions of dollars, and possibly never recover them, preventing someone else from dominating a potentially lucrative market that might be a good match to Google's talents. But in this case you already have a leader, the market's already proven very lucrative for that leader just as it was for the pack that leader just displaced, and there's very little overlap - possibly none at all - with Google's in-house talent. Not to mention there's a little company up in Redmond that's going to take its gloves off as soon as it can find the laces; and there's a little company in Palo Alto that just placed a small bet on following Apple's lead.

I'm curious what's going to become of Google's efforts here. I could easily see them spending many billions of dollars, which they do of course have, just to somehow stay in the game. But remember, Google makes money on advertising. It would be so much cheaper for them to simply extend their domination of that market into the mobile world.

I suppose it's at least theoretically possible to beat Microsoft and Apple at the same time, each on their home turf. But it's a little like racing your sailboat against Larry Ellison: are you really sure you've got the silicon cojones for that?

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