Gmail: A Symbol Of Everything That Is Wrong With Google--And The Reason Apple Is A Far More Beloved Consumer Company

My colleagues just put together a neat slideshow of all the cool things you can do with Gmail if you’re inclined to check out a little tab called “Labs”.

There are things like:

  • Forgotten attachment detector, and
  • Did you get the wrong “Bob”?, and
  • YouTube previews in emails

And that’s cool.  I guess.  If I ever want to watch a YouTube preview in email or feel the need to install a “forgotten attachment detector”–and I figure out that “Labs” is code for “settings”–maybe I’ll experiment with it.

But between now and then I am going to continue to curse Google every minute of every day that they force me to view my email as a series of “Conversations.”

As I’ve explained before, I understand that some people like the “Conversations” format.  I’m happy for them.  I, personally, can’t stand “Conversations.”  For me, they are confusing, cause me to miss important emails, and never work properly. 

For me, moreover, “Conversations” symbolizes everything that is wrong with Google.  It symbolizes why the company has a much smaller chance than it should of dethroning Microsoft in the enterprise.  It symbolizes why Apple will always have a big leg up when it comes to winning consumers’ hearts and minds.

Why does “Conversations” symbolise all this for me?

Because it would be so simple for Google to create a “Normal email view” for people like me.  But Google refuses to do it.  Google would rather let its engineers fiddle around with “Labs” and “YouTube previews” and “forgotten attachment detectors” than do something so mundane and boring as let me view my email the normal way.  Google has concluded that the “Conversations” format is better.  So Google will be damned if they’re going to build inferior old-way features for the likes of me.

In the mid-1990s, when Bob Pittman arrived at AOL, most people had written AOL off for dead.  AOL was “the Internet on training wheels,” everyone said.  AOL didn’t get that the Internet was about “technology.”

And, yes, five years later, AOL crashed and burned, having failed to make the jump to broadband.  But before that its market capitalisation increased nearly 100-fold, from about $2 billion to over $200 billion, and its subscriber base soared from 3 million to 20+ million.

Why did AOL kill everyone in the 1990s?

Because Bob Pittman understood what Google does not: When it comes to consumer products, it’s not about “technology.”  It’s about consumer behaviour and brands.  Consumers don’t like to customise.  They don’t like to be forced to learn new ways of doing things.  They actually don’t like “technology”–at least not for technology’s sake.  Consumers like to keep things simple and easy. 

Google doesn’t understand that yet, at least not the folks who make Gmail.  (Google’s Search, meanwhile, is as simple as can be–which is why everyone loves it).  With Gmail, Google is still infatuated with the idea that it can do everything “better.”  Google can’t be bothered to do things the old way because the old way is boring.

Well, here’s what I’m hoping.  I’m hoping that the equivalent to Patrick Pichette–Google’s new CFO who has finally brought financial and spending discipline to the company–will soon arrive on the product side.  I’m hoping this person will understand that, for the mainstream Gmail user, it’s not about “technology.”  I’m hoping that that person will understand that every day that Google makes me view my email as “Conversations” is a day that it is alienating millions of folks who would otherwise be big champions of the company. 

Adding a “Normal email view” would be so easy.  Until Google understands this–and adds it–it will never have a chance against Apple at becoming a beloved mainstream consumer company.

See Also: 10 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do With Gmail And Google Calendar

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