If ecosystems are what breeds success, where is Google’s?

In researching this book, one of the things that occurs to me is that ecosystems are, if not everything, then crucial to success.

And the success is magnified if you have a hardware *and* a software ecosystem.
Windows succeeded because it had the software ecosystem (all those apps, plus all those in-house apps you never saw written for companies) plus a hardware ecosystem (all those PCs) plus a “human” ecosystem – all those people with Microsoft skills who could sort your Windows systems out. That’s a killer scene.

With the (original) iPod, there wasn’t a software ecosystem, but there was a hell of a hardware ecosystem: by the end of 2005, it was worth $1bn at least (likely much more, because that number doesn’t include online sales) – see this New York Times article which quotes NPD Group having a good stab at it.

If you have any data about the size of the iPod or iPhone ecosystem, I’d love to see it. Drop links or other info in the comments, please.

Then you have the iPhone, which has both a software and a hardware ecosystem (all those iPhone docks and bumpers and cases).

In which case: what is Google’s ecosystem? OK, in Android it is (a) software in the Android Market (b) hardware in the shape of the actual phones. Fair enough. But is that a lock? The handset makers don’t have that much invested in the success of Android – if something else comes along, they might rush to that.

Is that right? And is the Android ecosystem the real hardware one for Google? Is there anything else? Is there a software ecosystem for Google, the search engine, and its properties? (Arguably there’s a human one, in the form of SEO experts.)

Also: what about the companies that failed to thrive – Palm, Psion? Did they lack one of the key ingredients, or did they just predate the internet too much?

Once you think about ecosystems around products, you can see how powerful it is: look at Coca-cola, which generates huge revenues and has a hardware ecosystem (all those bottles and cans) and “software” (advertising) and “human” (vendors) invested in its success.

But to focus again: what is the Google ecosystem in software, and in hardware? Does it matter if it has one?

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About charlesarthur

Freelance journalist - technology, science, and so on. Author of "Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the internet".
This entry was posted in ecosystem, google, smartphones and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to If ecosystems are what breeds success, where is Google’s?

  1. With regards to “What is Google’s ecosystem?”. You mention some key things Google competes with Apple on, the App Store/Market and hardware, one size fits all vs. a range of prices and features to fit your needs (some people send a lot of emails and prefer a physical keyboard, some people need a ruggedised phone but don’t want a dumbphone, that’s the Moto Blur).

    But the key thing for me has always been in the services Google provides. Google has a growing raft of integrated services, the things that we use more often than apps/games on a phone, things like the browser and Maps. If you look at the evolution of Google Maps on Android vs iPhone, you can see that Google is leaving Apple behind. Google Maps v5 ditches bitmap tiles for smooth vector data (100th the size), offline caching of routes, location-relevant information overlaid, you can even click on a bus stop in the UK and see departure times. Along with maps we have the built-in syncing of contacts, TODO lists (Tasks), free turn-by-turn SatNav that works in-car as well as on foot, photos (Picasa), bookmarks, email, StreetView and more. Every day Google take steps into another service industry, the latest being books, and rumours are magazines are next. So for me it’s not about the short-lived apps, or even the super slick UI polish, it’s the genuinely useful stuff that come in the form of cloud-based services. This for me was the “lock” that I’d be pained to give up.

    • charlesarthur says:

      True, Google does look to pull you as the user into its orbit. But an ecosystem is about what lies around the product that the product creator doesn’t directly control. Google Maps on Android is smarter, yes. But does Google really benefit if it gives a worse experience on the iPhone? Can it then make people shift to Android because of that? Or are its interests better served by making the iPhone one better? In this situation, Apple (making the iPhone software) and the Android handset maker (making the handset) become Google’s hardware ecosystem. So it would be in Google’s interests to make that the best it can, surely?

  2. John says:

    Couldn’t you look at Google as being the ecosystem itself?

    Minor quibble – Coke is not quite that vertical – they manufacture and sell syrup to third parties who own bottling businesses.

  3. One might consider any website carrrying Google ads as part of the AdSense ecosystem.

  4. Lilly says:

    Apple first big eco-system was desktop publishing. It was for quite a while almost alone in providing the whole offering. If my memory serves me right that is what kept them going.

    I am surprised about your Google ecosystem query. Software is surely first and foremost their ranking algorithm as well as Blogger, GoogleMaps et al , the hardware are their server farms and human side comes in a number of layers:from internal experts like maximizes via volunteer testers and translators to all of us who use the site. Not sure where the companies who buy the targeted advertising fit in nor how would you categorize all those who carry AdWords.

    This does not include Books, Android or Sites nor Labs or Apps. The first of these is quite special since the ‘software’ could be argued is both the books in paper form and their s/w. On the ‘human’ side are governments, publishers, authors and users -each with quite different powers and interests.

    So, I would argue that Google has several very different eco-systems which are partially overlapping -especially when it comes to hardware. Incidentally, I believe that Google holds some significant patients related to the effective operation of distributed server farms.

    Thanks for prompting me to think about this type of framework. I would be happy to get further involved as my own expertise is in systems dynamics and I have a deep interest in corporate histories of high-tech companies.

  5. I find the hardware/software distinction a little confusing but here’s my two cents on Googles enormous Ecosystem

    Part 1 : SERPS
    Part 2 : ancilliary information sources including maps, street view, shopping etc etc
    Part3 : adwords – the ultra transparent advertising platform for businesses
    Part 4 : google analytics -the free analytics platform to monitor general site use and adwords effectiveness.
    Part 5 : mobile, hardware and software
    Part 6 : chrome

    I’m sure there’s more, but as someone that helps businesses online it feels like google is central pillar of what they do each day from demand generation to measurement to content distribution. This, if I’ve understood your definition of ecosystem, feels ubiquitous in a business context and unavoidable in a consumer context.

  6. SomeRandomNerd says:

    How about the web- every website that relies on Google search (either organic or paid) for traffic, and relies on traffic volume for whatever purpose they have? Which explains why News International erecting a paywall was such a big deal in terms of starting a Murdoch/Google ‘war’ (no longer drawing new traffic from Google, but relying on building an existing audience), why the iPhone 3G marked the end of the friendly Apple/Google relationship, as it introduced mobile apps that not only diverted users from Googleable websites, but didn’t even rely on a Googleable home page.

    The hardware ecosystem would therefore be every internet-enabled device with a web browser. So, Playstation 3- but not Xbox. Google TV, but not YouView. (I guess Apple TV is a grey area- no web browser, but it does have YouTube- albeit a bit weak at present…)

    This way of looking at Google also shows why they spent so much money on Android, while giving it away as open-source; to grow their mobile ecosystem, attacking Apple at one end (online, but becoming less reliant on the web) and ‘feature phones’ at the other (no web capabilities, with manufacturers holding web browsers back for their higher end models.)

  7. Lilly says:

    The funny thing is that Microsoft is the odd one out in this trio -they are the only company that does not own at least a sizeable part of their eco-system hardware. At least this is changed in the video games arena where theyown the hardware with XBox360 and now Kinect and software is mostly third party. The human side is drawn in via social networks aimed at playing and competing with friends.

    • charlesarthur says:

      Google doesn’t own any Android handset makers. It gets its Nexus phones made for it by third parties. True, it does own all the systems that make up its cloud services and search service, but on that so does Microsoft.

  8. njr says:

    I’m not sure I completely “buy” the ecosystem argument, but if you use the concept in thinking about Google, I think you have to start with the advertising.

    As you know, Google’s revenues almost all come from advertising, and there is a big ecosystem around that — Dart for Advertisers (DFA), Dart for Publishers (DFP), all the SEO companies, all the digital agencies and individual advertisers using Google Analytics and DoubleClick cookies and so on.

    You are clearly interested in the relationship between an ecosystem and lock-in / barriers to competition as well, thought that seems to me a somewhat orthogonal issue. As Richard Leggett points out, many users are now using many different Google Services in a way that would make transferring painful. But it’s also interesting to think about the browser search box. First, clearly a lot of browsers come with Google as the default search engine, and the default counts for a lot. Secondly, the list of pre-installed search engines you can switch in is typically small. For example, DuckDuckGo is gaining interest, but it is hard to get it as your default search engine in the search box. In the other direction, although you can make Google the search engine in your search box on IE in Windows 7, Microsoft makes it a slightly painful and confusing configuration option—something that would matter more if IE weren’t losing share so fast.

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