Easily the most ballyhooed and hyped product announcement of the year, perhaps in all of high-tech, Google Wave is the company’s real-time collaboration platform for sharing and co-editing documents. Unveiled at Google I/O in May, the HTML5-based platform was released to open source and tested by 100,000 users through Sept. 30. Earlier this month, Google rolled Wave out to one million users and acquired AppJet to boost its document editing functionality. The platform is a work in progress. Google is adding management features to give users more granular control, but there’s no denying the paradigm shift to a faster moving collaboration, albeit with more noise than usual.
After Wave, Google Voice is perhaps the second most exciting product to come from Google’s innovation factory. Google Voice is a phone management application that routes calls to any and all of a user’s phones with one number. Users can also get their voicemails transcribed and enjoy several other features to make call management less of a burden and more of a joy. Google in November acquired Gizmo5, and it is believed the company will use that software to extend Google Voice to be a complete Web phone platform, competing with Skype and serving as an app for devices based on Google’s Android mobile operating system.
2009 is the year Android came of age. While T-Mobile launched the first Android phone—the G1—in 2008, there have been a slew of new Android phones and OS builds in 2009. None perhaps has been bigger than the Motorola Droid, which is on track to ship almost one million units before the end of the year. Based on Android 2.0, the Droid is also the first OS to include Google Maps Navigation, a free, turn-by-turn GPS application. Android suffers from fragmentation issues and took a beating from the iPhone in 2009, but there’s no question that ecosystem is growing stronger.
5Google vs. Apple
When Apple in July rejected Google Voice from its iPhone App Store for competing with iPhone features, it became clear that Apple wasn’t taking too kindly to Google’s encroachment on its mobile communications turf. Apple CEO Steve Jobs laterpunted Google CEO Eric Schmidt from Apple’s board and rumor has it that Apple is developing mobile apps that would replace some Google mobile apps. This year Google wielded Android and Google Voice as pincers circling Apple’s iPhone. In 2010, Google is expected to launch the Nexus One, which some testers say is good enough to challenge Apple’s iPhone supremacy.
This year was a quiet one for Google Apps, the company’s collaboration software for consumers and professionals. That is, if you call topping the 2 million business mark quiet. Google Apps landed the city of Los Angeles as a major customer—more than 34,000 employees—and signed other big contracts. The Apps team still doesn’t make a lot of money for Google compared to its ad-cranking engines, but Google Apps arguably pushed Microsoft, IBM and others into the cloud sooner than they might have done. Still, Google Apps has a tough task in challenging Microsoft.
7Google Chrome Operating System
After Google Wave, the company’s July announcement of a lightweight operating system to run on netbooks surprised many people for its audacity in challenging the Microsoft Windows hegemony. Released to open source in November, Chrome OS will help netbooks boot up rapidly and enable Web apps to run super fast. Questions remain about whether Google will be able to deliver on its promises to bring the OS to market by this time next year, but it will make the computer world more interesting if it does appear on machines from partners such as Asus, Dell, HP and others.
8Google Real-time Search
Google made a big splash Dec. 7 by announcing that it has successfully managed to index Twitter tweets, blog posts, news stories and other content from MySpace and Facebook in real-time. This could help Google keep users, who might have gone elsewhere for instant, up-to-date information, coming to its site. Does the Web’s future lie in real-time? If it does, Google has a solid stake in it.
9Googles Shopping Spree (09 Edition)
Google acquired 16 businesses in 2007, but only 2 in 2008 as the economy swooned. While Google and everyone else tucked away their wallets in 2008, the search engine flipped the switch in the second half of 2009. From August through December, Google bought or bid to buy video compression software maker On2 Technologies, Website ID provider ReCaptcha, mobile display ad power Admob, softphone maker Gizmo5, ad provider Teracent, and real-time document management specialist AppJet.
10Google Book Search
Perhaps no story in 2009 cast a darker pall over Google than Google Book Search, the company’s proposal to scan and offer millions of out-of-print books to users for fees. This agreement, inked in October 2008, has been wending its way through the New York District Court system all year, thanks to opposition from the Open Book Alliance, which includes Amazon.com, Microsoft, Yahoo and myriad others who feel Google is trying to dominate the online book market. The district court judge is expected to rule on whether to accept the agreement in 2010. But will that appease regulators such as the Department of Justice, which shares some of the same concerns as the current opponents?
11Antitrust & Privacy Concerns
Thanks to Google Book Search, and Google’s previous placement of CEO Eric Schmidt on Apple’s board, Google has invited the scrutiny of antitrust regulators, such as the DOJ and FTC, which is reportedly looking over the company’s proposed bid of AdMob. Google also sparked additional privacy concerns with its Google Latitude mobile social networking app and Google Dashboard, with experts calling for Google to provide more privacy controls and insight into how what kind of data Google collects on its users. Google drew the attention of the DOJ in June 2008 when it tried to partner with Yahoo to spite Microsoft and regulators have been watching the company more closely ever since. Expect more of the same in 2009.