Last month, we flew to China and met with several executives at some of the biggest Internet companies over there.
One of our favourite things to ask these executives was for their views of the American tech industry. Sometimes, the clearest view of your backyard is the one from the other side of the globe.
The most interesting thought we heard was from an executive we met who visited Silicon Valley earlier this year.
He said the over-riding impression he got from the visit was that Google is kicking everyone’s butt, and all of its competition is just rolling over.
“Google seems to be so dominant and nobody can do anything about it,” he said.
He said he was particularly surprised that Google’s competitors (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft) allowed it to buy Israeli mapping startup Waze.
Are they just content to get beat?
“It’s like Google and all the others,” he said. “The landscape in China is more diverse.”
He’s got a point.
Right now, Google is number one in the three most important categories: search, video, and mobile operating systems. It’s also number one in some other very important categories including maps and browsers. It’s up there with Gmail. It isn’t resting easy, either. It’s putting huge resources behind several “moonshots” — most relevantly, wearable computers and robotics.
Google does have some weaknesses. A world where people start and finish their online shopping entirely in apps and away from any kind of Google-powered search is not good for Google’s search ad business.
Also, Google is also very weak in China. It’s search business is hobbled there. While Android phones are everywhere, Chinese tech companies are working very hard to “fork” Android in order to build their own operating systems. It’s hard to imagine the Chinese market won’t evolve in such a way to favour homegrown operating systems.
But China is only one (albeit very big) country, and it looks like mobile is going to be a Web-and-apps platform. So it’s hard to see any end to Google’s dominance any time soon.