Laptops

Google's control play is transparent and desperate

Donovan Colbert shares his thoughts about Google's pressure for a long-term digital dependent commitment with their cloud storage. Do you agree?

In my recent article, "What good are tablets in the enterprise?" I suggested that tablet adoption, especially in the enterprise, is partially dependent on a transition from local to cloud-based technologies.

At Google, I'm sure they nodded their heads furiously in agreement when I described tablets as "cloud-pods." Google thought that most consumers would opt for the sub-$200 8GB version of their Nexus 7 tablet, leveraging Google's expanded Play Store and storing information on their servers. They were so wrong about this that 16GB Nexus 7 tablets ran out of stock online and at brick-and-mortar locations. Sales of that model had to be suspended for weeks while they scrambled to meet the demand.

Google has made this mistake before.

I think most of us understand that Google's model is made to monetize web traffic. By design, Google directs people to get connected and create more internet traffic. It's equivalent to a newspaper or magazine circulation. The higher the numbers, the more advertisers will show up, and the more they'll be willing to pay.

But Google has tried at least two times before to rush the consumer market to embrace cloud-based solutions that have failed. In both cases, and in this case too, there are remarkable similarities.

The earliest attempt, the Chrome Web Store, hasn't really been a success. It's a novel concept, and it offers a lot of promise, but it just hasn't caught on. I have my theories on why, but that isn't what I want to focus on in this post.

The second and most recent attempt was the release of the Chromebook and Chrome OS. Both were underwhelmingly received. The fact that Chromebooks were aimed at delivering lightweight affordable business productivity platforms seemed a weird choice to me. There are a lot of early adopters who are very excited about the possibilities of thin cloud-based client machines, but the industry as a whole seems wary and unconvinced.

I think that Google has faltered on tablets, focusing on cloud solutions to Apple's advantage, because they really thought that Chrome, Chrome OS, and Chromebooks were going to shake things up with cloud adoption.

The Nexus 7 should illustrate to Google that they're moving too aggressively, trying to herd the market toward cloud-based solutions. These have been rejected every time that Google has tried to lock markets in. I don't think consumers or businesses consciously know why they're reluctant, but they are. Overall, there are control, accessibility, security, and dependency issues with cloud-based solutions.

People love cloud-based storage and apps like Dropbox, Gmail, and even Google Docs. Businesses love being able to outsource the headaches of mail-server management and other "non-business process" app and server support. Encouraged, Google keeps trying to close the knot and prevent users from looking back.

Ultimately, that's the problem. I think consumers realize that Google is acting like an over-eager high school student on a date, clumsily trying to close a play. People are afraid of being locked-in with a jealous and clingy Google once they don't have any other option.

I store my pictures on Facebook and Google+, but I'm not locked into any of these solutions. I also store my apps and documents locally, so I don't have to worry about Google shutting down or having hardware problems and losing my data -- and I can't ever see myself willingly giving up that ability. Regardless of how many benefits Google tells me I'll gain, giving up my independence just isn't on my roadmap.

I like Google, but I'm not ready to make a long-term commitment and give up my digital independence. If Google keeps pressuring me, I just might have to start seeing other vendors. Honestly, sometimes Google creeps me out, especially when it comes to control issues.

From what I've read, a lot of IT pros agree. Don't try to lock us into a small amount of memory in the false hope that we'll store more of our stuff with you. Don't push a device that has crippled local file systems and storage. Stop trying to limit our independent capabilities in the hope that it'll make us more dependent on you. It's transparent and desperate.

Google learned a lesson with the Nexus 7. How they apply it is up to them. They can cripple future devices by not including expandable memory slots and charging more for on-board memory. That isn't anything new. Their competitor does it and is reviled for it among Android users. Or they can get back in touch and make sure that future devices include the ability for people to use the device how they want -- online or off, leveraging the cloud, solely for local purposes, or a mixture of both.

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

12 comments
tbmay
tbmay

Good article. Like you, I recognize Google offers some good services, and I use them. Like you, I don't completely trust them. I've noted many business and government agencies have outsourced their collaboration to Google Apps, and I've been called paranoid for expressing reservations about storing critical data in Google's infrastructure. It looks like the die is cast though. People simply don't want to think about these things.

Slayer_
Slayer_

As my primary envisioned uses would have been offline.

deb
deb

To me, probably the most exciting thing about the Surface is its storage expandability, with support not just for micro SD/SDHC but SDXC as well, you can have virtually as much local storage as you want. And if that's not enough, with full fledged USB ports (USB 3.0 on the Pro version), you can even plug in an external USB hard drive. The cloud is great for some things, but the cloud will always be (for me) a supplement to and not a substitute for local storage.

phoneboy
phoneboy

It's that you can't always reach the cloud. A WiFi-only tablet is simply not going to be able to reach the cloud all the time, even if you have a separate WiFi hotspot (which itself doesn't have all-the-time connectivity, much like a mobile phone). Devices with small amounts of local storage are non-starters because it is painful to try and manage what content is available on the device, especially when you have to factor in the inability to reach the cloud and the content you might want to be available over a given period of time. That's why, despite the fact I know I'm overpaying, there is tremendous value to me in a device with lots of local storage and multiple connectivity options.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Do a search on Google for "Larry Ellison Thin Client" and the stories that were coming up in 2009 are titled, "Larry Ellison's thin client *flashback*" and many of the stories are dated 1999 and earlier. My point is that Larry Ellison was an evangelist of a thin-client revival 14 years ago that was never actually *realized*. The "cloud" was supposed to change the approach to thin-client computing from the user perspective by making the thin-client portable and able to connect to data *anywhere*. I dig Google Docs, but I've got the feeling that in the broadest terms, Docs hasn't even made a dent in Office's importance in business computing. My personal mail solution is Gmail - and I love it... but for real business use, I still want the integration, power, and industry acceptance of Exchange and Outlook. Here again, I think *most* corporations and most business users share a similar opinion to mine. Here are two examples of where Google is doing it right and doing it wrong. Google Play Music features a native player app that will download all of your purchased tracks as tangible files that can be placed in your iTunes directory and synced with your iOS device. Google probably knows they *had* to address this somehow and in this case, the overwhelming popularity of iOS music players is a benefit, because without it, I don't think Google Play Music would have included this feature. Google Play Books is a horrible alternative to Kindle. eBooks in general don't offer end-users the flexibility that they enjoy as music consumers - but G-Books is a step backwards from Kindle, Nook and other alternatives. It feels like a feature-crippled web-app that *requires* connectivity. Your library isn't stored locally on your device - and the content costs the SAME as on other platforms. I've bought a couple of titles, and I'm absolutely certain I won't buy any more from Google. I'll buy them from Kindle, where I have far more flexibility on what devices I can access my digital library and have it on my local storage where ever I go. The cloud and cloud dependent devices are contingent on ubiquitous, cheap, fast and reliable mobile connectivity. Until I can drive through a remote desolate area streaming my music or movies and not have service disruptions I'm going to want that media local. Otherwise, I'm dealing with a headache when my daughter decides that she doesn't want to watch the locally pinned copy of Futurama but instead wants to stream Adventuretime. Instead of being *enabling* technology, it becomes another distraction and head-ache for me as I'm driving along trying to troubleshoot our 4G hotspot at 70 MPH. The device that causes me that kind of headache, it gets stuffed in a bag at the back of the car... and an iPad that has 64GB of local storage and doesn't need a wireless connection is what is in my daughter's lap while we travel. Although these are consumer examples, I've dealt with the same thing travelling down to Cincinnati with a co-worker who was trying to connect on her laptop over a 4G hotspot to do remote work. We ended up pulled over in a rest stop while I tried to resolve her MiFi issues, losing time instead of optimizing it. Infrastructure is the biggest liability for the cloud right now. The problem is that in the places where mobile signal is the most reliable, cheap, plentiful WiFi tends to be equally available. Airports, big cities, corporate campuses, academic campuses... It is when you're in motion or in a remote area that you need that mobile wireless connectivity - and those are the places where it fails to deliver, still. If I'm in a hotel room in a major city my MiFi works fine. So does the free hotel WiFi, most times. Until this issue gets addressed, the cloud gives you "tethered" mobility. That is, you've got to be within range of a strong signal and not really moving around much. Which is better than nothing, especially for corporate users - but it certainly isn't ready for a prime-time, consumer based device in the kind of situations I described above with my kid. Google is too far ahead of what can be delivered and rushing consumers to embrace that is going to lead to disappointed consumers. It isn't ready for average consumers or average business users. It is still too much of a hassle for mass adoption among either group.

dcolbert
dcolbert

And 16GB is pretty decent for most users and uses... beyond that... someone like you should have no problem rooting and installing the Cyanogen Mod rom on it, which will unlock all kinds of abilities. Of course, at that point, if you're going to put a CM Mod on it, I've been seeing Acer 7" tablets with similar specs, Samsung 7" tablets... for sub $150 prices on "closeout". You might want to research what 7" tabs have solid Cyanogen Mods available for them and look for some bargains created by the Nexus 7's cheap entry level price.

dcolbert
dcolbert

People ask me to tell them things that Android can do that iOS can't - and this is one of them. Recently I was struck with this example - trying to get any media OFF of an iOS device (iPod, iPad, iPhone) - is anywhere from difficult to nearly impossible. Getting things ONTO it might be easier - but that media that is on the portable device, you need to download kludgy 3rd party apps that may or may not work and might depend on various patch and firmware and OS levels on your device. It is a real sketchy proposition. Other solutions are kludges too, like having your iOS device host a wireless web server that you access from a desktop browser and copy files back and forth... When would you legitimately want to do this, though, right? This is just about piracy - which is why only CONSUMERS like the Android model. Imagine that my PC hard drive dies, and takes my whole library with it, including my own legally ripped media. With an Android device, I buy a new PC, I hook up my Android device, and I drag and drop all the stuff back to the new machine, wherever I want it. There isn't anything special to get it done... it is a regular file copy/move operation between *any* OS. If I've got an iPod... I've got all that content still, but it is locked and protected and hidden from me on my device. I have to jump through hoops and install special programs and fiddle with settings and try to circumvent a system that is trying to PREVENT me from freely manipulating my own data. There are locks on iOS that only keep the honest people honest, and only by preventing them from having convenience they SHOULD be trusted to use ethically. On Android, those locks aren't there. But the Nexus illustrates a shift in Google to embrace a strategy that seems to limit my choices in a way I'm not keen on. I don't think they're doing it for the same reasons - Google is doing it because they want you to store all your stuff on *their* servers and access it through them... creating more traffic through THEIR networks that can be targeted, monitored, analyzed, to better serve advertising goals. But the end result is very similar in either case. The reason I'm with Android is *largely* because of these details - and if Google starts making that difficult but Microsoft enables and empowers that for their users, Microsoft could break my Google/Android lock-in and win me back. It is pretty easy for Google to avoid that possibility - but removing SD card slots and trying to force me to use the cloud isn't the right direction to go. Here is a great example... I got a free copy of the Transformers: Dark of the Moon with my Nexus 7. Not a rental, not a time expiring copy - but a free copy included with the purchase. I can *pin* it locally to my device to watch it offline, I can stream it, any time, anywhere I want, provided I have a good connection and there are no problems between me and the server, and I can access it on ANY other Android device I own that has the "Google Experience". But what if I want to copy it off of my device and onto a non-Google Experience device, or onto an iPod, or onto some other platform to watch? What if Google decides to change the terms of what devices are authorized to watch this movie *after the fact*? Fair use says I should be able to do that legally and ethically - but this new model makes that difficult or impossible to do. I understand that this is part of protecting IP owners and their rights and preventing illegitimate transfers of my copy - and that by taking steps to guarantee this to IP owners Google increases confidence that their platform won't become a rampant source of copyright theft - resulting in more content for their platform. But it limits my freedom to use MY data the way I want, where I want, on the devices I want. I don't really exactly OWN it. Which is why I'm reluctant to purchase books or movies or magazines from Google Play. This is why I'm hesitant in trusting MY digital content to THEIR cloud based control. The minute I walk my data into the gates of their digital kingdom, I'm subject to their RULES about how, when and where I can access it. When I buy it, I want it to be *mine*. I can buy the movie on physical media and rip it and put it on any device I own - or I can buy it online and get a crippled version that is bound by a bunch of rules and terms that are difficult to circumvent, if not impossible. This is a subtle walled garden. I don't like it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If you're going to plug a USB hard drive into a tablet, be sure at least one of them is running on AC. Otherwise that drive isn't going to help the battery life, even with at solid state drive. I too don't see myself outsourcing the storage of my personal apps and data.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I was thinking about offline access to cloud storage and apps. Google keeps pushing this - but it isn't PROGRESS. If I have to think about what songs or albums I want to be able to play on my device for a day away from a wireless signal - I'm back to having a Walkman or Boombox and choosing which CDs or tapes I'll bring with me on the beach trip. It cripples the promise of digital media - that I can have every book I own on my Kindle, that I can have every track or DVD I own on my iPod, that I can bring my entire library WITH me and I don't have to plan ahead what I might want to consume. We're hitting ALL the reasons why consumers and businesses are rejecting this model.

tbmay
tbmay

I'll say the momentum is with it and a lots of folks have made up their mind that if you're in the IT Dept. and you express any reservations, you're "part of the problem." Infrastructure is half the challenge. Security is the other half. Mind you, I work in a highly secure environment, with clearance and security certs required, and some colleagues will tell you the die is cast for the most part with regards to things like Google apps. It's not that they don't see a problem, because they obviously understand all the concerns. They simply don't think it's productive to voice them anymore. Now we don't specifically go that route, but it's not hard to find lots of people who've decided to outsource their collaboration. Next will be CRM. With the exception of those of us who keep large files.....images, iso's, etc.....file services are already going to the cloud. Of course you're right. Your consumer points are relevant to both consumers and enterprise; however, I don't think most IT Pros will be able to keep their jobs resisting it, or even trying to get their leadership to be wisely cautious about it.

bboyd
bboyd

Such a pretty garden, smell the rose colored walls.

dcolbert
dcolbert

On these devices means that I can still power an external 1tb 2.5" drive longer on a TF300 than the run-time of a full fledged laptop with extended cell batteries. It takes a hit, for sure... but it is a pretty fair trade off. A nice 32 or 64 GB thumb drive has an even smaller impact and will hold a boatload of media and personal files. For the record - the Nexus 7 not only has no MicroSD card - the Android kernel on it does not have the capability to mount external storage at all. I got a MicroUSB to USB 2 host adapter, plugged it in, and it wouldn't recognize *any* external memory, including thumb-drives. So this isn't just a matter of cutting costs by not including a MicroSD slot. Google had *intent* to prevent users from accessing their own external memory solutions to expand base memory - because they WANTED people to have limited local memory so they would rely on Play purchases and Google cloud storage and app solutions. I'll have to check to see if my Droid 4 will mount a thumb-drive using the adapter. I bet it will. The *intent* that is displayed here is what bothers me. I'll use all those Google services. I don't want that to be my ONLY options.

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