Google's mobile operating system is firing on all cylinders. The platform started the year with 25 percent to 30 percent market share and will end it with more than 50 percent share worldwide, putting further distance between itself and Apple iOS, and all but burying the flagging Research in Motion BlackBerry OS and Microsoft Windows Phone. And the momentum is still building, as Android forefather Andy Rubin said Dec. 20 that 700,000 Android devices-smartphones, tablets and TVs-are being activated each day all over the world.
Though it was only launched to the general public in September after a field test that began June 28, Google+ has racked up some 50 million users worldwide to become a viable, albeit much smaller, rival to social network superpower Facebook. But it's not just about the network. The product is a fine, polished social network-complete with games, video chat, messaging, photo capabilities, status updates and more. The network's fabric is also being stitched across every Google Web service, from Gmail to Search and Google Maps. Google also added more than 150 features and improvements, including Google+ brand pages and other perks to lure more users.
Okay, this is hardly new, but Google Search is a monopoly product by sheer numbers; it has hovered between 64 percent and 66 percent U.S. market share for the last couple of years and enjoys more market share overseas. Moreover, Google makes hundreds of improvements each year and is beginning to educate users about some of those finer alterations to its algorithm. This disclosure will only help Google as it fends off antitrust attacks. Google also added such fun features as voice search for the desktop, search by image and more Google Instant Pages predictive search technologies.
Chrome, which began the year at around 10 percent market share, now has about 18 percent, covering more than 200 million users worldwide. Like Android, Chrome is still growing well. It's also rapidly iterating and rolling out new features, such as multiple account sync.
Ice Cream Sandwich
This version of Android is the best to date, offering holographic user interface features; customizable widgets; Android Beam information sharing via near field-communication (NFC); and Face Unlock, a facial-detection software feature that worked well in our testing on Samsung's Galaxy Nexus. There is a lot to like about Ice Cream Sandwich, which finally blends the tablet UI functionality from the Honeycomb build. And we'd been stuck with Gingerbread for so long that we were due for a bump in 2011. And boy did we get it.
It's early days still for this mobile-payment service, but Google is onto something with this platform, which is only available in New York City and San Francisco. Many people believe NFC sensor-enabled products, such as Wallet, are the way of the future, and Wallet, though limited to only one phone to date, certainly works at some retailers. No doubt, a broader rollout is required, and Wallet's back-end infrastructure is replacing Google Checkout, but give credit to Google for seizing the opportunity at a time when carriers, banks, Apple, Amazon, PayPal and others are all looking to capitalize on the mobile-wallet potential.
Okay, so it's not available in every city yet, and it pales in comparison to Groupon, but don't underestimate the importance of the Google Offers daily deals service as a way to prompt more people to try Wallet with the careful application of targeted daily discounts.
Google Maps just added the ability to let users get directions from inside, and has charted several natural disasters, including the Japan earthquake and tsunami in March. Perhaps more important on a strategic front, Google has been integrating its Google Places local search service with Maps to provide a more comprehensive shopping and product-location service for users. Places has the Hotpot recommendation engine, providing additional targeting capabilities for Google's algorithms. We see Google Offers, Google Wallet and Google Places eventually working in concert to provide a formidable local commerce service over time.
Clean Power Spend
It's not a product, but a strategic march to pump capital into much-needed clean energy efforts. Google has spent more than $915 million, including more than $880 million in 2011 alone, spanning wind, transmission, solar photovoltaic energy and concentrated solar energy efforts to heat homes and offices. No other high-tech company is making as bold a bet to save the environment and reduce its carbon footprint.
Driverless Cars, Google X
Okay, so it's not really productized yet, but we know Google's driverless cars work and they could be game-changing for travel down the road (pun intended). Driverless cars were born in Google X, the not-so-secret-anymore lab where co-founder Sergey Brin and others are working on some science-fiction-like challenges in artificial intelligence, among other far-out products. Kudos to Google for trying to move the needle forward.