Larry Page once said that Google should have one million engineers, and he’s made clear that he wants to return Google to its engineering roots. He’s hiring 6,000 people this year to help.
But Google will never be a great consumer company until it takes a lesson from the book of Jobs and hires a bunch more liberal arts majors.
Engineers are great at solving problems.
But they’re not always so great at figuring out which problems to solve.
Look at some of the big new product announcements from the company’s I/O conference last week:
- Google Music Beta — it solves the relatively minor problem of getting music from your computer to your mobile phone and tablet without using a USB cable…but doesn’t let you buy new music from within the service itself. (It’s also obviously unfinished, the upload process is maddeningly slow, and sideloading from a computer apparently doesn’t work very well either.)
- Chromebooks — they solve the relatively minor problems (for consumers) of slow startup and having to run antivirus software…but they might not work with your digital camera or printer and they require an Internet connection to be truly useful. (For IT departments, they might make more sense.)
- [email protected] — it solves non-problems like having to walk down the hall to turn up the heat or forgetting to turn the lights off when you leave home. (Home automation is one of those recurring geek dreams that doesn’t resonate with normal people — sort of like interactive TV.)
Worse yet, when the company does release a product, it often seems like the user experience wasn’t fully thought out or tested adequately.
Take for example the 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab running Honeycomb 3.0, which the company gave away at I/O as a showcase for Android tablets.
It’s a beautiful piece of hardware burdened with some not-so-great software.
Like: the Gmail app doesn’t have a unified inbox — you have to switch between work and home accounts manually. The YouTube player freezes. The Google Music app won’t connect to the online locker service at all. The screen keeps switching between landscape and vertical mode at the wrong times. The picture associated with my Google account came out upside down, even though it was right side up in the photo gallery.
To be fair, some apps are better than the iOS equivalent — Maps and Contacts spring to mind. And again, the hardware is beautiful.
But overall, it feels like a work in progress. And it’s more than a year after the first iPad.
This is why my four-year-old daughter pointed at the Tab and asked “can we look at the iPad together?” (We don’t own an iPad and have only had ever had one in the house for two weeks while I tested some video conferencing software. She still knows what it’s called and recognised this as a knockoff.)
Google knows where to find good designers — just look at the interior of the Google I/O conference.
It’s time for Larry Page hire more of these people and integrate them into product teams. Then give the product teams a mandate: BEAT THE MARKET with FINISHED products that will inspire customers on day one.
Enough with solving non-problems. Enough with the lazy release management and endless betas. Enough with the fast-following imitations.
Time for some inspiration.