Google rebooted in 2011. Co-founder Larry Page took over as CEO and shook things up. He presided over the termination of dozens
of underwhelming and underused Google services; he moved to defend Android against an assault from Apple, Microsoft, and Oracle through the acquisition of Motorola Mobility; and he oversaw the imposition of a unified design across Google services and the integration of social tools arising from the company's new social network, Google+, among other initiatives.
In 2012, the company, which Page pushed through an abbreviated adolescence, will have to move both more cautiously and more decisively. Google must be careful because it's under the regulatory microscope and its challengers are emboldened. Yet it must move with purpose and speed to deal with the walls, both regulatory and competitive, going up across the online world. The company's mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible will be increasingly opposed by companies that covet Google's business, and governments determined to control how their citizens see the world.
Here's how I see Google's year shaping up:
1. Google Stars In "Regulatory Theater"
Google will make a few minor concessions in its search business to appease European Union and United States regulators, thereby avoiding a prolonged, painful antitrust probe. I predicted as much last year, but antitrust concerns weren't really resolved. Nonetheless, Google managed to win approval for its acquisitions of ITA Software and AdMeld, and will for Motorola Mobility as well. The bark of regulators thus far has been worse than their bite.
[ Read our 2012 IT Outlook: More Projects, Tepid Hiring Plans to learn what to expect in the coming year. ]
2. Google Loses 5% Market Share To Bing
Bing has slowly been gaining ground and will continue to do so as Microsoft whips Windows 8 into shape. Conspiracy theorists may see a deliberate attempt by Google to light the match and throw antitrust regulators off its scent. But a simpler explanation will be the accretion of Google fatigue, Microsoft's ties with Yahoo and Facebook, and the fact that, after something like $8.5 billion in online division losses over the past nine years, Microsoft actually has a decent product to show for its lavish spending. But given the increasing importance of mobile search and Google's surging success there, Bing's validation on the desktop won't be all that meaningful until search ad revenue from Windows Phone devices catches up.
3. GM Goes Google
Google has reportedly signed a deal with GM to provide over 100,000 of the automaker's employees with email and productivity applications through Google Apps. GM says it hasn't made a decision about whether to deploy Google apps, which isn't the same as saying it's not considering Google Apps. In 2012, Google will have finally satisfied GM with concessions and service level guarantees. This will allow Google to announce a customer of unassailable stature in the business world, thereby (finally) putting an end to concern about cloud computing.
Amit Singh, VP of Google's enterprise group, said in a phone interview that the high-level goals for his team are to make the enterprise cloud more social and mobile, and predicted that larger customers will become more common. Google does have a fair number of large enterprise customers, but such wins look like a trickle compared to the stream of small and midsize businesses embracing Google Apps.
4. Android's Share Of Smartphone Sales Reaches 60%
Android devices accounted for 52.5% of smartphone sales in the third quarter of 2011, according to Gartner, doubling Android OS' market share in the third quarter of 2010. Despite the steady stream of litigation directed at Google and its Android partners, Android is thriving and will become more robust. Apple's continued insistence to go it alone will continue to provide impressive short-term profits throughout 2012, but less market dominance. Google's decision to rely on partners will help assure Android's growing clout, at least up to the point that Amazon releases its own Android phone, cleansed of Google services.
5. Google Chrome Ends 2012 With 35% Market Share
StatCounter presently estimates Chrome's global market share at just over 25%. It started 2011 around 15%. Given the slope of the graph of Chrome adoption
, Google's vigorous development of new features for Chrome like NativeClient, Firefox's suspension
of its multi-process project Electrolysis (critical to compete with Chrome), and the lack of an obvious avenue of counterattack for Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Chrome appears destined to continue growing at the same rate it has been throughout 2012.
Chrome is also making inroads with business customers, a constituency Firefox alienated in 2011 following changes in its update practices. "We're seeing great adoption because of the security and speed in the business context," said Singh.
6. Google TV's Second Act Stronger Than Its First
With new, more affordable Google TV hardware, the second iteration of Google TV will find limited success. Taking a page from Apple, the new Google TV hardware will be a $99 set-top box with an ARM-based chip. The problem is that the product consumers want--a way to view any content immediately for a reasonable per-show fee--cannot exist given current Hollywood release windows and competing sales channels. Google's challenge in 2012 will be to bring unique content to Google TV, through apps, Google-funded content, and YouTube, to make the service valuable in its own right, rather than in proportion to the availability of traditional content.
7. Google Will Take A Shot At Siri, As Apple Promotes Its Replacement For Google Maps
Google will introduce Google Voice Control, the project currently known by the codename "Majel," at its developer conference at the end of June. It will feature a dialogue with Apple's Siri, in which Google's product will come out sounding smarter. Andy Rubin or Vic Gundotra will conclude the presentation with some wittily veiled put-down of Siri's intelligence. Google's bravado will sound somewhat hollow, however, as Apple, having just held its Worldwide Developer Conference, will have revealed that it has made mapping a core service in iOS and Mac OS, accessible from a dedicated button in mobile and desktop Safari, not to mention via Siri. Apple will leave the future of its default Maps application in limbo deliberately until its fall iOS release makes it clear Maps will become an optional install in 2013, guaranteeing Apple's control of local data.
8. Google Will Release Chrome For Android
9. Google+ Survives
To observers looking for a fight between Google+ and Facebook, the match-up will continue to appear lopsided in 2012. By the time Facebook's IPO rolls around, there will be talk of Google+ being a ghost town. While Google won't be able to boast 1 billion users like Facebook, it will manage to get to 50 million. But the growth of Google+ will be more sustainable because it will be based on utility rather than vanity. Services like Hangouts and Google Voice integration will find their way into the routines of businesspeople, and integration with other Google services will generate more usage, even as Facebook cements its dominance as the social network.
10. Google Patents "One-Snap" Purchasing
Perhaps you've heard of Amazon's "One-Click" patent, the poster child for the absurdity of patent law. Well, Google, having been at the receiving end of one too many patent claims, will follow in the footsteps of its enemies and patent every obvious series of actions it can describe. And somewhere in one of Google's many buildings, an engineer will write up a description of how the company's image recognition software, with a single smartphone button press, can be used to identify products captured in pictures and to order those products from retail partners. A lawyer will then rewrite the engineer's text to make it non-obvious and Google will be awarded a patent for its trouble.
Microsoft will scoff and deploy its patented purchasing method that doesn't require any buttons: With Microsoft Kinect-Buy, you will just wave your Windows Phone at the object of your desire and it will be ordered for you. Apple will also be unmoved: It will roll out a mobile shopping service called Apple Purchase Protection by which an Apple review board will protect customers from purchasing unworthy products by canceling orders before they can be processed.
That's how 2012 will go down, more or less, except maybe for this last prediction.
For the 15th consecutive year, InformationWeek is conducting its U.S. IT Salary Survey. Upon completion of the survey, you will be eligible to enter a contest for prizes including a Bravia HDTV or iPad 2, and get a link to download our report once it is published. Take the survey now. Survey ends Jan. 20.