Google needs to pull itself together

It could be a much greater company if it could only figure out how to combine existing technologies into killer apps.

Google logo fisheye
Kristina Alexanderson (CC BY 2.0)

Google. You either love it, hate it or, most likely, love to hate it.

It sounds strange to say this about a massively profitable and venerable Silicon Valley giant, but Google’s really got a lot of potential.

Google has some of the most powerful cloud services, industry-leading artificial intelligence, incredible content and even brilliant hardware. But the greatness always seems just out of reach, because of a failure to do (frankly) what Apple does better — integrate what it’s got into an elegant and usable whole.

Here are five combinations, convergences and integrations that Google could do to become the greatest company ever. 

1. Build Squoosh and Snapseed into Google Photos.

There are two massive problems with the otherwise fantastic Google Photos service.

The first is that it lacks any way to shrink photo file size. Anyone who wants to post pictures on the internet — bloggers, small business owners, social media professionals, you name it — labors under the Google regime for optimizing pages for mobile. Which means all photos have to be much smaller than cameras natively produce.

The second problem is that Google Photos’ built-in photo editing tools are weak and limited.

As a result, people (like me) who use Google tools end up doing ridiculous gymnastics to post photos on websites.

Here’s my workflow. I take a picture with my Pixel 3. It’s auto-backed up into Google Photos in the cloud. I then download it to my Pixelbook, edit it in Google’s great Snapseed for Android tool, upload it to Google’s cloud-based Squoosh service, reduce the picture size and quality in order to reduce the file size, download it back to the Pixelbook, then upload it via Squarespace to post a blog or add a photo to my business websites.

In other words, after taking a picture, I upload it, download it, upload it, download it, then upload it again.

I travel a lot, and find myself in places with slow connections, and this ridiculous process is impossible under those conditions.

Here’s how it should work (obviously): Auto-upload photo to Photos, edit it with Snapseed tools, shrink the file inside the editing tools and share to Squarespace from cloud to cloud.

This would be possible by building Squoosh and Snapseed into Photos and adding a share function with Squarespace and other blogging, website and email platforms (like MailChimp).

2. Integrate Photos and Maps into Keep to create a private life-logging tool.

Life logging is the idea of keeping a digital copy of all aspects of your life that you’d like to remember in a format optimized for quick recall.

Most people have no interest in life logging, but in a perfect world they would. Weak interest in life logging results from public mistrust of Silicon Valley companies to keep our data private, and the belief that social media sites will remember our lives for us.

Both intuitions are faulty. Tech companies already have all our data — they use it without letting us use it easily — and sites like Twitter and Facebook keep past activity in a way that’s difficult or impossible to reliably access.

The greatest life-logging tool ever was Google+, which let you post publicly, semi-publicly and privately, the combined posts of which added up to a reverse-chronological and searchable life log with pictures, locations and words. If someone asked you about that taco stand in Brooklyn you visited three years ago, you could find the details with a 5-second search, even without remembering the name or date.

Google+ for the public is now decomposing in the Google graveyard. Meanwhile, Google’s cloud services are still housing all the data necessary for a life log, without giving us the tools to actually maintain a life log.

By adding a button to Google Photos and the Location History section of Google Maps, these memories could be instantly added to a new Google Keep Life Log, which could be augmented with journal entries and encryption for privacy.

3. Add auto-delete to Gmail.

Google this week began rolling out a new feature announced in May for Google Maps’ Location History and web surfing. After a user-determined set of time (in 3-to-18-month intervals), Google promises to forget where you were and what you were doing online.

Great idea, Google! But email is the insecure personal data mine field we need help with. Google should add auto-delete to Gmail!

4. Enable Chrome for Android and iOS to use Chrome extensions.

Chrome extensions can be fantastic and powerful tools, but you give them up when using Chrome on iOS or Android. Sure, you can use extensions on Firefox, or use Chrome alternatives like Kiwi Browser on Android. But the homerun would be real Chrome extensions running on real Chrome on mobile devices.

5. Add the Google WiFi idea to Fi phones.

The Chinese mobile giant Oppo this week announced a new mesh networking system called MeshTalk, which should enable Oppo smartphones to create a mesh networking system that extends internet connectivity beyond the range of Wi-Fi and cell networks by relaying the connection from phone to phone.

It works in theory like Google’s mesh router product, Google WiFi, which extends a Wi-Fi signal from node to node throughout a house.

This would be perfect for Google Fi phones. Opting into “Google Mesh,” or whatever Google might call it, would mean you would both benefit from the mesh connection and participate in it by relaying the traffic of others.

Users might be motivated to always opt in if mesh connectivity was added to the auto-switching feature of Fi, whereby currently Fi-supporting phones in the U.S. automatically move from one of three carriers and Wi-Fi depending on which has the best connection in any given location.

I realize that this feature would almost certainly require different technology from Google WiFi, and also require hardware changes to the already purpose-built antenna in Fi-supporting phones. But it would be a killer feature that could extend the internet beyond its current reach.

Bringing it all together

Those are the five most compelling integrations or combinations that would make Google’s good services great.

There are others, of course. I would also love to see Google Fi and Google Voice combined so that Fi users could take advantage of ringing multiple numbers when getting calls and also Voice’s amazing blocked-number feature (where it plays a fake “this number is no longer in service” message to throw off the robocalling spammers).

I’d love to see Maps combined with Photos for one-button social check-in with a photo (like Foursquare or Swarm).

And I’d love to see Contacts, Maps and Photos combined into a semi-social alternative to Facebook, where people could follow Google Photos folders as they now can, but resulting in a non-sharable, non-algorithmically filtered “news feed” of photos and posts. Bonus points if that newsfeed could auto-update hands-free.

Google has all the parts to create some of the greatest and most powerful products and services on the planet, if only it would unlock its potential by smartly combining them.

Is that too much to ask?

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

Bing’s AI chatbot came to work for me. I had to fire it.
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