Google CEO Larry Page just published his annual founder’s letter for shareholders and, as usual, it’s a fascinating glimpse into where Page thinks Google is going, how it’s going to get there and what the company will conquer in the future.
Sure, he mentions the usual things: search and email and being always logged in through Chrome so that your stuff can be seamlessly accessed on a laptop, phone or even on your TV.
But there are also a couple of surprises in there. Here we quote five of them.
1. Same-day delivery shopping: “We’re excited about our new Google Shopping Express service, which is a great way to get deliveries the same day you order them.” Shopping Express hasn’t been rolled out nationally yet. You can look at the San Francisco version here. It looks like a straight-up threat to Amazon.
2. Curing death: “In healthcare we have Calico — a new company led by the former CEO of Genentech, Art Levinson, that’s focused on health, well being and longevity — and Iris, a smart contact lens designed to transform the lives of people with diabetes.” The keyword there is “longevity.” Page really believes that there is no need for humans to start dying “naturally” once they hit their eighties.
3. Good design: “Now, none of this matters without good design. I remember taking a class at the University of Michigan on usability. Students had to pick a program they knew really well (I chose an email program) and estimate how long it would take experts to perform different tasks. It really helped me understand that building good, efficient interfaces is hard, and a bit more like engineering than you might think. Another tab here, another drop-down menu there. The more choices you throw at people (even if they never use them), the longer it takes them to get stuff done. People still talk about the simplicity of the Google homepage, and that was a huge part of our original success. There’s no reason the same principles can’t apply across our products, especially now, with so many devices and options, and so much opportunity for distraction.” This is interesting because often, Google’s products are ugly (think about Drive for instance). It’s also a page from Apple’s book. When people think about tech design, they tend to think about Apple rather than Google — Page seems to be aware design is an area Google needs to improve.
4. Conversational, artificially intelligent search: “Improved context will also help make search more natural, and not a series of keywords you artificially type into a computer. We’re getting closer: ask how tall the Eiffel Tower is, and then when ‘it’ was built. By understanding what ‘it’ means in different contexts, we can make search conversational” For most people this isn’t going to seem like much, but making computers handle human-style search requests in natural language patterns would be a huge step forward in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Business Insider has more context on the future of search here and here.
5. The 5 billion people who are not online: “Of course, this all assumes you are one of the two billion people who have access to the Internet. That leaves five billion other people. It’s a tragedy that with so much information available today, two-thirds of the world’s population lack even the most basic Internet connection.” Google is a $US60 billion-a-year company. To move that needle, it needs to find new businesses that will generate billions, not millions, of new dollars. And that seems to mean finding billions of new customers in developing countries where the internet doesn’t yet exist.