Does Google really understand us?

Published 17 Mar 2010 in Marketing, Opinion, Usability by ZigPress

The news that the Google Nexus One phone has shipped only 135,000 units since its launch 74 days ago got me thinking about what else Google has launched in the last few months, and where it all went wrong…

Nexus What?

But first, the Nexus One, although Googlephone seems to be the moniker it’s been stuck with.

The smartphone market seems to me to be divided not by features or performance, but by people’s personalities and how that makes them anthropomorphise their gadgets. There is also a significant bandwagon factor.

At the moment the market seems pretty much sewn up by the RIM Blackberry with it’s “I mean business, and I will not tolerate frivolity” keyboard, and the Apple iPhone, with it’s “I’m from Apple and therefore I’m fun and cool” looks and user interface. Personally I would never choose an iPhone, because I don’t like the way that Apple locks you in to all sorts of after-sales content such as apps and music, but for a lot of people I suspect that doesn’t enter into it – they look for something that they think “suits” them, or something their friends have.

It’s also worth pointing out that both Apple and RIM have invested quite heavily in marketing, advertising and product placement.

Then here comes Google, pushing a new smartphone onto this rather emotionally-led market, with virtually no marketing effort after the launch hype, and a less than catchy product name. It may be as good as other smartphones, it may be better value, it may run open source software, but unless Google promote it in the same way that Apple promotes the iPhone, it’s no surprise that sales are terrible (and out of that 135,000, a significant percentage will have been employee purchases and launch freebies).

To summarise, marketing fail.

Not Waving, But…

Remember Google Wave? That amazing, paradigm-shifting, seriously hyped, collaborative email-slash-IM hybrid? Do you know anyone who actually uses it? And I mean on a daily basis, to actually do stuff with, rather than just playing around with it to see what it does.

Like many people, particularly those in the tech world, I got myself an invite after it was launched, and explored it a bit along with friends and acquaintances who were also interested. My findings? It was slow. And I mean slow. It could take over a minute for the main screen to become ready. It was also very buggy and would lock up frequently. And the user interface wasn’t at all intuitive, compared to something like Gmail. To be fair, it was in preview, and it may have improved since then. But that experience didn’t make me want to persevere with it.

And, to be honest, I found that it confused me.

With email, you know it’s not real-time. You know that when you send a message, it will appear in the recipient’s inbox, and they may then reply if they choose. The reply may be quick, if they’re online at the time, or it may take longer if they’re not. But the reply is a separate document which starts the whole process once again.

With instant messaging, you know the person you want to talk to is online, because you can see it in the software. You can send a short message and have a reasonable expectation of a quick, short reply.

Do you see what I mean? You pick the tool depending on what you’re trying to achieve. If your aim is correspondence, you’ll use email. If your aim is conversation, you’ll use IM.

But Wave is trying to be both and ultimately ends up being neither. When you start typing in Wave, you don’t know whether any of the other people linked to that particular wave is online and viewing it, in which case you might suddenly see them typing in it, or not, in which case they’ll respond later. So how do you style what you’re writing? Do you make it conversational or formal? Do you use it when you need a quick answer, or only when you need a record of the interaction?

To summarise, research fail (and launched before it was ready).

Buzz Off

What is Google Buzz? Well, it’s kind of Twitter, but with the ability to include multimedia. Fair enough. It seems to work OK, though Twitter works fine for most people. But that isn’t the point I wanted to make.

When Buzz was launched to Gmail users, it was set up in such a way that if you enabled it, anyone could see your most frequently contacted Gmail contacts by default. This may seem like not a big deal on the face of it, but there are plenty of situations where you would definitely not want that to happen. Here are some articles on the subject that are well worth reading:

Google committed a serious breach of trust when they designed the Buzz activation process in this way – a breach of trust that led me and countless others to permanently deactivate and hide Buzz from my Google account.

To summarise, customer respect fail.

And if I summarise my summaries, it all boils down to Google not understanding the market, which is quite a surprise. With the Nexus One, they failed to understand that you have to make people desire a phone. With Wave, they failed to understand why people use email and why they use IM. And with Buzz, they failed to understand how people use Gmail and how valuable their privacy is.


  1. On 17 Mar 2010 at 10:00, wizely said:

    Excellent article drawing together these unexpected Google fails. Makes you wonder doesn’t it? They’ve got more research data at their fingertips than anyone else on the planet but have failed to understand the basic ‘human’ elements of marketing and their market. They’re the first to say “humans not robots” when it comes to SEO but their marketing of late seems 100% robotic.

  2. On 17 Mar 2010 at 10:41, Andy Towler said:

    Thanks for the feedback and the RT :)

  3. On 17 Mar 2010 at 12:22, [email protected] said:

    Like wizely, I agree that this is an excellent article. Makes me really wonder why Google launches products that are not a hundred percent finished or fail proof? What is their real motive behind? Are they not after sales and satisfied users? Google is really hard to predict at times.

  4. On 20 Mar 2010 at 11:57, Shiva @ WP SHopping Pages said:

    Really a good article, it seems 2009-10 has been a bad year for Google as a whole…seeing that they flopped so badly in most of their new products. And from the looks of it, it seems Google Chrome OS will also flop

  5. On 24 Mar 2010 at 10:57, Laura Ontvangst said:

    Google should think of changing their R&D and Marketing department. How often can things go wrong? I

  6. On 24 Mar 2010 at 19:49, SEO Yorkshire said:

    i think all smart phones are playing catch up with the domination that is the iphone, they should stick to what they do best!

  7. On 26 Mar 2010 at 13:04, Dharmayu Purohit said:

    Actually what google is following is to simplify everything, whether it is any functionality or it is just the navigation. User friendliness is the keypoint with Google and that’s y it is ahead of many competitors.

  8. On 26 Mar 2010 at 15:46, kingion said:

    It’s just the beginning I think, Google will strike back with Nexus Two and they will not make the same mistakes. Too bad for this phone, I really like it, too bad I don’t have the money to buy it, but after all is better than the iPhone.

  9. On 27 Mar 2010 at 13:49, Zeitarbeit said:

    I think even if other vendors have better phones, the marketing strategy of apple is too strong for others to catch up. There’s always just one, and the rest underdogs and followers.

  10. On 29 Mar 2010 at 11:03, Juega Poker said:


    My comments might differ everyone here but I have personally noted, if you are in to organic things Google thinks for you, Trust I knew a SEO Company that has been doing great job, but because of some thing the site Got banned, Google was right doing so, but again after an email sent to Google, they have not only un-banned their site but also banned the website and a company which has caused trouble to that SEO Company.

    Yes Google thinks for us if we do not push huge troubles over their crawlers.

    Madrid Spain

  11. On 30 Mar 2010 at 11:40, Druck said:

    Thanks for the great contribution. Read your blog regularly and I like your posts.

  12. On 30 Mar 2010 at 23:00, San Francisco movers said:

    I agree with you for the most part. Their products are often high quality but they don’t seem to put a lot of effort into actually marketing them. In the case of Google Wave, there was a lot of hype but it ended up being a strange and confusing product, and as for Buzz, I know a couple people who use it frequently, but otherwise it seems mostly useless.

  13. On 31 Mar 2010 at 23:51, Charles said:

    Good article pointing out some of Google’s flaws. As well as Google does in many areas of business even they are not above a fail here and there.

  14. On 01 Apr 2010 at 18:46, Computer repair Hamilton said:

    The guy above me made almost no sense at all…
    Anyway, I think you’ve really hit it spot on. One of the things my advertising prof taught me is that the ‘truths’ of a brand, what it represents, is really important. If you don’t target it properly, people wont buy it, and they can always tell a lie.

  15. On 02 Apr 2010 at 15:52, Superweiss said:

    You know I was wondering about these Google fails too. They have more information on people than anybody else and still they seem to fail big time on their new branches. Like BOOOM!

    I wonder why that is… Don’t they research. Don’t they do betas. Btw there phones are horrible. I have a Google Droid and while it is ok it is pretty slow.

  16. On 05 Apr 2010 at 20:09, Sunshine Coast Real Estate said:

    The thing is thats just how google seems to roll. They lack the marketing team to promote their products, I mean the Google Nexus One had to be manufactured by HTC. I myself naturally loved the Google Phone but in the end was persuaded by some trendy friends of mine that it is basically a “geek” phone. I then seriously had 2nd thoughts on the nexus mainly because of its geek, non fashion factor and also its price tag….Unfortunate for google, actually deserved.

  17. On 06 Apr 2010 at 15:06, How to Tie a Tie said:

    Found your blog while googling. Enjoyed reading it , consider me as frequent visitor

  18. On 08 Apr 2010 at 13:55, pak telecom said:

    i believe that Google is an very efficient artificial intelligence system and they keep updating it to make it a perfect master piece. i have used the Google wave and other services from them and all are very powerful in their own prescriptive. Search ‘Google the Hungry beast’ YouTube video and you will see that Google is covering every direction which could be used online and they are trying hard to not be am evil, this is their motto.

  19. On 08 Apr 2010 at 14:36, Reasoned Rants said:

    Google has always walked close to the edge on privacy matters. With Buzz they kind of tipped over it completely, and the negative publicity serves them right.

  20. On 08 Apr 2010 at 19:44, Christian said:

    Thanks for a good article. Enjoyed reading it.

  21. On 10 Apr 2010 at 00:28, SEO Orlando said:

    Great points. Personally, I have used Buzz and Wave and have not really gotten anything out of the two. I’m not really sure what Google was going for there…

  22. On 10 Apr 2010 at 16:41, Shampoos said:

    You’re right about this, google doesn’t care about user’s privacy. Look at google wave and google buzz. I used it just to fulfil my curiosity. After that, it’s not useful. I prefer using the old email (and google doc is okay) and actually I don’t do social networking a lot, so G buzz will seem to be useless for me anyway.

  23. On 11 Apr 2010 at 21:07, Manage Leads said:

    Its not about selling the product to users, it’s about creating awareness to mobile makers that they can develop similar phones to take the iPhones market share and cutting into Apples revenue. Thats all it’s ever been about.

  24. On 14 Apr 2010 at 12:04, Jana said:

    Honestly, i really started to dislike Google products these days.. why do they need to get into every niche? they are a very good search engine, but i am not convinced about their mobilephones etc.. Cobbler, stick to your last!!!

  25. On 16 Apr 2010 at 17:34, Ryan said:

    Google = Greedy. They have too many fingers in too many pies.

  26. On 18 Apr 2010 at 20:33, Dead Sea Treatment said:

    It is very refreshing to read this kind of stuff. I think that Google’s image is pretty positive, when you compare them to Microsoft. They do indeed have to work hard not to be evil.
    I had an interesting Google experience recently. After I sent a complaint about one of their apps, the project manager contacted me and then set up a webex meeting to show me what they are planning. He wanted my feedback as I know a lot about the kind of software that they are trying to “one up.” I thought that was pretty cool and “open” behavior for a mega-corporation. That said, they still haven’t fixed the main bug I complained about :)

  27. On 19 Apr 2010 at 23:34, Emergency Plumbers Chandler said:

    I’m with you with Google Wave. Total waste of time.

  28. On 20 Apr 2010 at 18:08, Sioux Falls Dentists said:

    Google Wave has been a total flop thus far….I am not writing it off completely, but they need to get some mass adoption going in order for it to be of any value.

  29. On 22 Apr 2010 at 00:00, carpet cleaning Bellevue said:

    It seems like Google is running into the same troubles Microsoft has in that they’ve grown so big so fast that they need to branch out into all sorts of technologies that aren’t their forte in order to try to keep growing.

  30. On 22 Apr 2010 at 13:56, Kurniawan said:

    Hm..i have many problem with Goolge,,they put my site into one ‘sandbox’, can you help me how to repair it??

  31. On 22 Apr 2010 at 14:03, Andy Towler said:

    @Kurniawan: send me an email via my Contact page and I’ll provide details of my consultancy rates.

  32. On 22 Apr 2010 at 14:03, piano instrumental said:

    @ Kurniawan: Just wait, usually after 3 months your site is out of the sandbox again, it is important that you keep building backlinks, especially from authority sites!

  33. On 22 Apr 2010 at 15:13, Michelle said:

    @Andy Towler
    What would be the main reason for the sanbox effect? As everyone know “Google will move domains to sandbox if we attempt to manipulate Google’s page ranking by creating lots of inbound links to a new web site from other web sites that they own.” Is there any other thing that Google consider for moving the domains to sandbox?

    Please advice..


  34. On 22 Apr 2010 at 16:01, Eve said:

    Great article. Maybe Google’s gotten too big for its shoes.

  35. On 23 Apr 2010 at 21:57, Tracy said:

    Isnt it typical for a business to get so big it loses touch with what people want? Google will head down that path as well.

  36. On 23 Apr 2010 at 22:04, Nannies said:

    Terrible marketing by Google. Google is great for usability and technology, but I think they lack the resources to market their product. Just looking at the Nexus looks like such a geeky phone. I hate the boring brown colour.

    It looks like a very boring phone, I saw a person carrying a nexus recently on the bus, and he looked very bored. Goes to show you that a high price tag doesn’t guarantee happiness.

  37. On 28 Apr 2010 at 23:14, zahnaufheller said:

    doesn’t google un-sandbox your website after a few months? thought this is just a temporary “ban”?

  38. On 29 Apr 2010 at 05:37, Replacement Carafes said:

    I agree that “Image” is a big part of cell phones. I wonder if they’ll eventually become just another generic gadget of modern life like toasters or radios.

    Regarding Google’s phone – IMHO, I think that aiming for the open source / Linux / Techie-tinkerer might be the way to go. As you mentioned, iPhone is the cool phone, and the Blackberry is the “Business” phone. There might be room for another (admittedly smaller) demographic for Google to get a foothold in the market.

  39. On 10 May 2010 at 02:46, Cupola said:

    Part of the problem is the high cost of the phone. But it really comes down to companies that try to do too much. Google should stick to search , chrome, & the basics. History has shown companies that become to unfocused don’t do well in the long run.

  40. On 12 May 2010 at 20:56, Pırlanta said:

    You can’t be good in every market. Google is a good search engine but when you come to the electronics, they have not that experience which will make them leader of that market. Plus, Apple does that pretty well with young look imho.

  41. On 13 May 2010 at 01:48, Superstar said:

    You would think with all of the data and statistics they have they might be able to understand the consumer better. One note. I heard recently (unconfirmed) that the android operating system has surpassed the Iphone in number.

  42. On 14 May 2010 at 03:50, used Machining center said:

    it seems to me that google always tries to rush things. Ive become a bit disappointed with them. granted their SE is superior but as of now they have failed in other areas

  43. On 16 May 2010 at 08:54, Tech Stuff said:

    I agree with you to some extent. Most people use Google services because most of them are free. Also if you watch closely the services are not as cool as the services offered by other companies like Apple.

    I think Google is just trying to pose a competition to other well settled companies in their niche, smells like “attempt to create Monopoly ” to me..

  44. On 27 Jul 2010 at 23:09, Christine Davis said:

    I agree with the people who say Google rushes things. I wish they would slow down and take the time to make things that are meaningful to my life (like Gmail). Google Buzz is a joke, it loads hours after I post, nut Gmail I can never be parted from.

  45. On 07 Dec 2012 at 17:17, Jamie Rand said:

    Great article, Google is certainly rushing things, but then the Nexus is amazing :)

  46. On 21 Jun 2013 at 11:22, Videochat said:

    I think they are rushing thing because they can’t keep up with the competition. G+ and chrome are the products that are really rushed in my opinion there are not finished and not stable. Now i wonder how Google Nose will be.

  47. On 23 Oct 2014 at 09:19, Publishing said:

    Google has always walked close to the edge on privacy matters. With Buzz they kind of tipped over it completely, and the negative publicity serves them right.

  48. On 07 Jan 2015 at 11:09, Jenn said:

    Good article ……. indeed, Google Nose makes me a little bit curious.