Google is often referred to as a “search giant,” as if it doesn’t also offer email, two operating systems, video streaming, a social network, and a variety of other products and services used by billions of people.
It might be better to describe Google as an empire that began its conquest with a search engine. The company then used it as a base to expand to all of the other markets in which it operates – from Web services to laptops, wearable computers, and self-driving cars. Along the way it has used the success of its existing products and a relentless commitment to “free” — or, at least, “cheap” — to drive adoption of its other, newer products. Well, free in the sense that we often don’t pay for these services in any way besides the systematic destruction of our private lives, anyway. But that’s (mostly) besides the point.
Nowhere was that principle more evident than today’s announcement of the Chromecast, a dongle that allows you to “push” content from YouTube, Netflix, and the Web to television sets and the updated Nexus 7, a 7-inch tablet featuring a high-definition display and the newest version of the company’s Android operating system. These products would be interesting on their own — the Chromecast might help weaken the barriers between your computer and television set and the Nexus 7 is said to have the highest resolution display of any small tablet — but their greatest advantages come from their connections to Google’s ecosystem and low prices.
At $35, the Chromecast dongle costs less than many other devices meant to connect your television set to the Web, which often run anywhere from $50 to over $300, the starting price for many video game consoles, which are leading the technology industry’s race to the living room. The device also offers three months of free Netflix streaming to new and existing customers, dropping your effective cost to $11. At that price, assuming you’ve used YouTube (which you probably have) or found something on the Web you might want to watch on a larger screen (ditto) you might as well place an order.
The updated Nexus 7 also uses its low price — $229 — as an incentive to purchase it instead of, say, the iPad mini. It might not offer access to as many applications as Apple’s offerings, but if you’re comfortable with Google’s ecosystem (which you probably are) and are simply looking for a low-cost alternative to Apple’s products, the Nexus 7′s price tag makes the device more compelling than it might’ve been if it were more costly.
These products, like Google Drive, Google+, Google Calendar, Google Now, and essentially every other product or service Google has released since it became more than just a “search giant,” use the company’s established products as a way to gain a leg-up over the competition. All of these products and services communicate with each other and allow Google to develop better technologies; a better Gmail leads to a better Google Now which leads to a better Google for iPhone, a better Android, and a better Google Glass. (They also lead to more personalized — and perhaps invasive — advertisements, of course.)
Perhaps it might be better to call Google the leading “why not” company. If you’re using the company’s search engine why not sign up for its email service. Once you’ve got that account set up go ahead and give Google Drive and the company’s other services a spin. And once you’ve been using all of those for a while it’d probably be best if you purchased a Chromecast, or a Nexus device, or a Chromebook so you can have all of those services available without having to worry about pesky manufacturers or other platform makers.
That’s the idea, anyway, a Google ecosystem. It seems to work when Google offers the services for free or cheaper than the competition but tends to fall apart when Google ups the price with a premium product like, say, the Chromebook Pixel. As The Verge and seemingly every other technology publication wrote after the Pixel’s release: “Everyone should want a Chromebook Pixel [...] but almost no one should buy one,” mainly because it costs more than competitive laptops.
But once price is removed from the equation, that sentiment is probably more like this: “Everyone should want to use this service. And since it’s free, you might as well go ahead and give it a try.”
Why not, right?