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G Suite ‘365’: Google Finally to Deliver Unified Client?

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Photo of dictionary definition of unify
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Rumor has it that Google is creating a new, unified app for G Suite users. The app reportedly will unify Gmail, Google Drive, Hangouts Chat, Hangouts Meet, and real-time messaging. This rumor makes perfect sense — of course Google would want to unify these because our workflows already traverse many of them.
 
It’s always made sense to merge these products, and that’s presumably why they’re already in a suite. Tighter integration should’ve already happened. This unified app is so logical that Google probably won’t do it. Google is great at new ideas but tends to leave the polished implementation to others — most commonly Microsoft.
 
I’m an avid G Suite user. Chrome is my primary browser (and app), and I also use an Android phone and a Chromebook. I think web-based apps make tremendous sense, and I love the innovative features that Google has created in its solutions. But I can’t help but notice that other vendors develop these ideas further.
 
Google can’t claim the unified app as its own innovation. Several vendors, including Microsoft, Cisco, RingCentral, and Vonage, now offer one. The other vendors took years to do it because they had to develop or acquire companies, create the solution, and get customers to update their clients. Google had all the apps and doesn’t utilize clients, so it is unclear what’s taking so long.
 
In this case, Google is clearly behind, but I usually feel Google is ahead. Google’s innovations are clearly changing the industry for the better, but these benefits are often outside the G Suite ecosystem.
 
Consider the following examples.
 
Cloud-Delivered Office Productivity
It’s had a few different names in the beginning, but G Suite was the first significant web-based office productivity suite to hit the market. It became available back in 2006, well before Office 365 came on the scene. In its early days, G Suite couldn’t match Office in feature richness. Instead, it offered compelling capabilities such as simultaneous user collaboration, automatic saving, and simplified access from any device.
 
With the launch of Office 365 in 2011, Microsoft disrupted its own office productivity monopoly. Microsoft has rapidly evolved its services, and Office 365 now provides a cloud-delivered, broad suite of web-based office applications. It also gives users the power of traditional software clients, something Google never developed. Microsoft has successfully pivoted its dominance in Office productivity from software to SaaS. Google has evolved its suite, but insignificantly. Google fell short of its first-mover advantage.
 
The New Browser Wars
Microsoft surprised us all last year when it announced it would adopt the Chromium engine in its Edge browser. Industry watchers breathed a collective sigh of relief: The browser wars — particularly IE vs. Chrome — were no fun for anyone. Developers had to choose which browser to support, and too often, the answer was to abandon web support and create client apps instead. Development of web apps was delayed, and WebRTC sat on the sideline for years. With Microsoft’s announcement, it seemed Chrome won and Microsoft lost the great browser battle.
 
But it’s not so simple. It turns out that Microsoft’s new Edge browser is getting great reviews. It has all the benefits of Chrome, including compatibility and extensions, without some of the drawbacks. Specifically, Edge has improved privacy and security. For the first time in years, it’s “cool” to install a Microsoft web browser. It appears Microsoft is in the process of hijacking Google’s leadership position in browsers.
 
Notebooks and Laptops
Unfortunately for Google, the story isn’t much different when it comes to Chromebook. Nearly a decade ago, Google introduced the Cr-48, a machine that would eventually evolve into Chromebook devices. At the time, having a portable computer that’s only useful when connected to the Internet was a bit of a crazy concept. Back then, connectivity was far harder to find.
 
Chromebooks were inexpensive, secure, versatile, and easy to maintain. They’ve always been a bit limited, but that was the trade-off for an expensive, secure device. Today, the concept makes much more sense. Unfortunately, the Chromebook hasn’t kept up with market changes. Comparable PCs are now less expensive, and the Chromebook options are limited. There are no Chromebooks with built-in LTE networking, and only one model (discontinued) had a fingerprint sensor. Chromebooks are indeed reliable, but PCs offer more for less. And, I’ve never found a purpose for my Chromebook’s stylus.
 
Looking ahead, the plot thickens. Microsoft recently introduced the Surface Pro X, which uses a new ARM chipset. Not all Windows apps can run on it, but one reviewer has already crowned it “the most extravagant Chromebook” because it supports Chrome-based Edge. App support will expand, and I suspect these new ARM-powered Windows laptops will become what I expected the Chromebook to become.
 
Android
The Android vs. iOS space was starting to look like Mac vs. PC circa 1990. As you’ll recall, in that round, the PC beat the Mac largely by being more open. Google was on track to do the same; Android was more open the iOS. The operating system itself is open source, and multiple vendors produced Android-powered smartphones. The Android Play store was also more open with fewer restrictions on developers.
 
It did work, in a way. Android is now more popular than Apple’s iOS, but not better. Google’s openness worked against it — crappy apps, inconsistent upgrade policies, and some bad hardware. Today, Samsung dominates Android hardware, but with its own “enhanced” version of Android that’s inconsistent and loaded with bloatware and weakened security.
 
Microsoft has recently begun to embrace Android, and will even make its own Android phone. It’s now offering an improved experience for Android users, including better apps and streamlined pairing. Microsoft has even embraced Android for its Teams Meetings rooms. These new “collaboration bars,” such as the Poly Series X, offer lower costs and improved usability over the prior Windows-based room systems.
 
Speaking of video, did you notice that Microsoft and Cisco recently embraced native video interoperability? Two of the largest providers of enterprise video are now using WebRTC to make video interoperability easier. Do you know where WebRTC originated? It came from Google. G Suite also offers an enterprise video solution called Hangouts Meet. But it’s not natively interoperable with Microsoft, Cisco, or any other third-party video service.
 
Envisioning Google’s UC Future
There’s no arguing that Google is great at innovation, but innovation isn’t enough. And Google can’t expect enterprise customers to keep waiting patiently for reliable services.
 
I can’t wait to see what Google has in store for its mobile unified client. I’d like to see it include Google Voice too, which wasn’t included in last month’s initial rumor. Then Google would be supporting meetings, calling, chat, storage, and mail in a single client. Including email with team chat really would be innovative. I’d love to see Google nail this, especially as a web-based solution. If Google puts its mind to it, we could see a horse race.
 
You can hear Google’s thoughts on transformation in communications and collaboration next month at Enterprise Connect 2020, where Smita Hashim, director of product management, will participate in a mainstage session on the topic on Monday, March 30, at 10:15 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. And catch Google in the Enterprise Connect Exhibit Hall, booth 927, or at its own Cloud Next user conference April 6 to 8.
 
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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