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Google IO Silent Messages

Last week was Google IO, the search Giant's annual developer conference. That really shouldn't be news unless you are a developer, but IO has grown into a major event for Google, complete with announcements and revelations about strategy. Google has lots to say, and lots are interested.

The keynote event, streamed over the Internet, had over 1 million viewers. It is this reason that Google gives little interest to various other conferences--when the firm talks, people listen.

What is the firm messaging? In terms of real-time communications, it was Google Hangouts that stole the show. This post is more about important things that weren't said.

Google Hangouts
As far as real-time communications goes, the big news at IO was the new version of Google Hangouts, which replaces Google Talk and offers a more unified approach to messaging (see The Verge for more information). There's nothing to fault here, at least from what was covered in the Keynote presentation. Though they did skip over a few items.

The big news that came after the glitzy presentations was that Hangouts won't support XMPP or federation with other solutions. This is sadly ironic because during the Keynote, CEO Larry Page talked about the importance of the greater good and specifically faulted Microsoft for lack of cooperation. It's also odd because Google was previously a champion of XMPP and the Open Internet.

"If you take something as simple as IM, we've had an open offer to interoperate forever," Page claimed. "Just this week Microsoft took advantage of that by interoperating with us. This is really sad, and not the way to make progress. You can't have people milking off of just one company for their own benefit." He was referring to Microsoft's recent integration of Google Talk into, even though it doesn't allow Google to integrate Outlook functions into Gmail.

That is a known risk of open software and interfaces, particularly since Google's "open offer" didn't have reciprocity requirements. But it's hard to blame Microsoft for creating islands when Google's new Hangouts kills XMPP.

IM interoperation and federation is emerging as one of the hottest enterprise UC requirements. Google's Chee Chew later explained, "We haven't seen significant uptake" in federation with Google Talk via server-to-server connections. The majority of the uptake Google did see was from organizations or individuals looking to bombard Google Talk users with chat spam, Chew said. As a result, server-to-server XMPP has been left out of the consolidated Hangout environment.

That means the new Google Hangouts is as open as Skype--which is likely its competitive target. The problem is, Skype does a lot more than Hangouts on a lot more devices. That's why Google pushed the multi-user free video chat feature, which is reserved for premium Skype users. Also, the new Hangouts is not supported on Blackberry or Microsoft Phone, and at least for now does not support PSTN or SMS. Which is odd because Google Voice does support PSTN and SMS.

This change is significant, Matt Landis writes: "Google Hangouts unplugging support for XMPP has deep ramifications in the industry: This means that interoperability between Google and Microsoft Lync, XMPP/Jabber based solutions like Cisco Jabber, Openfire, Avaya and many others will also lose interoperability."

Google Voice
Once again, Google has no idea what to do with Google Voice. Like Reader, the free Google Voice has sucked the air out of the virtual number space. It offers Google significant potential with enterprise UC, but Google just isn't interested. I can't recall Google Voice ever being mentioned at a Google IO--or any strategic event. It's been some time since Google has done much with Google Voice, and from my personal experience, service quality is degrading. With both key founders Craig Walker and Vincent Paquet now gone from Google and the obvious gap of SMS, PSTN, and voicemail in the new Hangouts, it is likely that Google Voice is destined to follow the path to oblivion paved by Wave, Buzz, Reader, and so many other Google services.

After reviewing web comments over the weekend, Google+ updated its page with the following message: "Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice, and making/receiving phone calls is just the beginning." I think that that the Hangouts roadmap includes SMS, Voice, and PSTN--but not Google Voice.

Next page: Motor-Whola?

Google did not announce a new version of Android, nor a new phone or tablet. Instead, it previewed a new version of the Samsung S4.

The Samsung S4 is already available through carriers, but with Samsung's "improved" version of Android. The Nexus phones are intended to be stock Android. Instead of a Nexus phone, Google will be selling a "Google Edition" of the S4 with Jelly Bean 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean was announced last year at IO). It will be sold unlocked and developer friendly at the Google Play store for $649 later next month.

Three key questions:

* Why wasn't this new developer-friendly phone given to developers in attendance as they did last year?
* Why will it come with 4.2.2 instead of 4.3, which is also expected around the same time? and
* Why a Samsung device?

That last question refers to Google's acquisition of Motorola a year ago. Motorola's innovation history stretches over 80 years and includes the first cell phone. There was an expectation that Google would be unveiling the new Motorola X phone, but there wasn't any mention of Motorola.

Here's two theories: Apple's success with tightly integrated hardware and software has cast doubt on the logic of separate firms developing hardware and software. Microsoft flinched after Google acquired Motorola, and announced for the first time in its history that it too would begin to produce its own tightly integrated hardware--key partners including Acer and HP were publicly very upset.

Fast forward to now, and Google's Android ecosystem is doing great and Motorola appears dormant. Was the Motorola acquisition really about making devices or more about getting Microsoft to disrupt its mature partner relationships? I get the impression that Google is happy to spend billions to disrupt Microsoft.

Or, because there was no new version of Android, Google didn't need to release a new phone. The Nexus 4 with the Android Jelly Bean release remains available at the Play store. Google may intend to launch the new Motorola X along with Android 5.0 later this year. The Samsung S4 was likely viewed as a free, no risk deal. At $649, it might even be a lucrative item to sell.

Victim Google
Larry Page vented about the negativity and called out both Microsoft and Oracle for holding back the Internet. "I've personally been quite sad at the industry's behavior around all these things," he said. "You can't focus on negativity and zero-sum games. I don't know how to deal with all of those things, and I'm sad that the Web isn't advancing as fast as it should be. We struggle with people like Microsoft." Then later regarding Java: "We've had a difficult relationship with Oracle, including having to appear in court. Money is obviously more important to them than any collaboration."

Yes, Larry used the C word, "Collaboration." as in it's not something that all of these collaborative firms are doing together. However, there's a bit more to the story. For starters, Google enjoys a relatively unique revenue model. Microsoft and Oracle largely rely on product revenues, while Google mostly gives its products away free. This alone creates considerable conflict between the firms. Detailed demographic information is so valuable that it justifies Google spending millions developing and providing free services. Microsoft, Oracle, and Apple need to create compelling products that people will actually pay for.

Consider the competitive overlaps between Google and Microsoft: office productivity suites, search products, e-mail services, music sales, phones and tablets, cloud platforms, browsers, even operating systems. Yet Microsoft has a fraction of the advertising revenue of Google, and Google has a fraction of Microsoft's software fees.

Another area of contention is around open systems. Google has contributed significantly toward open software, but keeps its strategic areas as secure as Microsoft and Oracle do with theirs. All of these firms differ on what should be open and interoperable--largely non strategic matters which vary by company.

Perhaps XMPP will follow a similar path as the RSS standard. There were plenty of RSS readers until Reader and Chrome suffocated them. Now, Reader is gone, and Chrome no longer supports RSS. The strong alternative RSS products could not match Google's R&D and free service--suddenly RSS lies on the verge of relevancy.

Google+ has never supported RSS (in or out). Google+ is central to Google's strategy, and the new (and old) Hangouts is designed to drive active participation within Google+. There is effectively nothing about Google+ that is open.

Google has done its share to sabotage Microsoft's phone platform, including breaking the functionality of Maps, not creating a YouTube application, and discontinuing Exchange Active Sync (EAS) and the calendar API CalDav. One can argue that the YouTube application was not a priority based on Microsoft's market share, but EAS and CalDav were in-place and working fine. Discontinuing them was largely viewed as a means to punish Microsoft customers.

Steve Jobs is Still Dead
Google IO didn't offer any major new releases, but rather an assortment of upgrades and enhancements. For the past five years, Google has been offering Android (device and OS) upgrades at blistering speed, trying to narrow the iOS advantage. Apple has gone more than an entire quarter without a major update, and now Google is taking a breath. It appears the phase of rapid mobile development is coming to a close, at least temporarily. That's probably great news for Blackberry and Microsoft.

Google Apps is a great product, but Google is inherently an advertising company and its big priorities relate to consumer/individual information and advertising. Google Apps is a reasonable business extension as it leverages the same basic products for a fee. Google can pay for Google Apps, leverage its R&D around it, and at the same time weaken Microsoft.

I do like Google Apps, and it meets the requirements of many organizations. But things like interoperability and federation are important in the enterprise. There's actually a possibility that XMPP will remain in Google Apps (as opposed to Gmail) for that reason, but unfortunately only time will tell. Google certainly won't.

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