Google Exec Wonders How Google Maps Navigation Could Be Evil

First thing's first: This is my first blog post of 2010, so Happy New Year everyone! Some of you may have read my eWEEK tête-à -tête with Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product management at Google, who told me that Google Voice is going to wow some people

First thing's first: This is my first blog post of 2010, so Happy New Year everyone!

Some of you may have read my eWEEK tête-à -tête with Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product management at Google, who told me that Google Voice is going to wow some people in 2010. Oh, and Google will accelerate its cloud computing efforts, too. Surprise.

For the love of brevity, not everything Horowitz and I discussed made it into that piece, so I chose to table a couple more items here.

First, I asked Horowitz to name his favorite feature on his Nexus One Google phone. He said "we're not talking about that" but deftly added that his favorite feature was having one. Fair enough. At least he fessed up to having one.

I then noted how one of my favorite features in using the Motorola Droid was the Google Maps Navigation turn-by-turn GPS app. He agreed, noting that navigation is one of the most visceral experiences you can have on a mobile phone. I then noted that while this is a nice app, it did nothing to deflate the theory that Google is evil.

After all, TomTom and Garmin stocks swooned when Google unveiled Google Maps Navigation with the Droid in October. No doubt those device makers and stockholders are bound to think Google is a little evil from the GPS disruption. Read Bill Gurley's piece on just how disruptive this app is.

I also noted to Horowitz how tools such as Google Dictionary could render online dictionaries from or Merriam Webster moot.

I've noted that before: If you are a Google search user, and Google adds these Web services within its search experience, why would you venture to other stand-alone services? Google created the Sidewiki annotation service, so what would make me use another annotation service unless they were superior? Same with Google DNS versus OpenDNS, et al.

But I digress. Horowitz replied, using the GPS example:

"That depends on what your definition of evil is. I think giving a fantastic, breakthrough experience to users is hardly evil. If the industry expected everyone to just stay still and not move and we'll all stay right here and just enjoy a good, healthy business, that's an unrealistic expectation. There's plenty of opportunity for innovation well beyond what we've put forward today. We haven't put this forward and said we've created the penultimate navigational experience and the industry is over as we know it."
"There's a million different ways and directions that we could advance the state of the art. If these companies are innovative and take advantage of that opportunity, there's ample opportunity to create even better experiences for consumers. It will mean change. Innovation means change and disruption means change. I don't see that as a bad thing not only for consumers, but as not a bad thing for companies and the industry. We need to realize this is the world we live in and embrace it."

I couldn't agree more with Horowitz. Businesses like Garmin and TomTom don't have to like Google's introduction of a free GPS app, but they need to get off their butts and do something about it. No whining. Go innovate, or be banished to the hinterlands of obsolescence and perish.

Of course, I don't own a GPS device, so it's easy for me to feel like I'm getting away with murder saving $100 by using a Droid as a device instead of a clunky little box. You know what they say about dedicated devices; they don't fly in the end.

Then I asked Horowitz what was going on with Google Wave. After all, Horowitz oversees Google Apps for consumers, so he must have an opinion of how that real-time collaboration app intersects with Google Docs, etc. Noting that he and his team are an arm's length from the Wave team, he said:

"I view what they're doing as a concept car, and am watching it with great curiosity and interest. But to a larger degree and by design, those guys have been quite independent. They literally went off to an island, a big island -- Australia -- and built Wave without worrying about the innovators' dilemma we have in Google Apps, where we have hundreds of millions of users and a current model that people are familiar with."
"They took a green field approach and reinvented e-mail without worrying about any legacy. We at Google are still learning. We don't know if it will replace Lotus Notes and SharePoint in enterprise collaboration, or whether it will be resonant with consumers and be a fantastic way for people to coordinate beyond what they do today in message boards and e-mail. It's still a moving target."

Aha! At least he admits Wave is gunning for Lotus Notes and SharePoint, as if that wasn't already obvious.

If Wave does catch on in 2010 and beyond, it will also disrupt the collaboration market, lapping not only Lotus Notes and SharePoint in functionality, but also relegating Google Docs as just a repository for files that business users may share with Wave.

Breaking out the trusty crystal ball for 2010, I'll bet Wave gets some ad-hoc pickup in workgroups and departments, but it will be slow, sort of like Google Apps was in its first full year in 2007. Knowledge workers will be like, "Want to Wave?" and set to it. No planning. It will just happen.

I really don't see Wave flying for consumer users the way Facebook and Twitter has. It's just not as intuitive and consumer-friendly as those social network services are.

Will Wave ultimately replace much of Google Apps? It could, but it would be on the business end, not from Joe Consumer.