Google Now has me locked in with all Google services, but I'm not sure I'm thankful for that

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Google Now has me locked in with all Google services, but I'm not sure I'm thankful for that
Thanksgiving has come and gone, and during the holiday I have taken some time to consider the various products and services in the mobile world for which I am thankful. This is actually a much more difficult process for me than you might think, because one of my favorite things to do is to play around with new products. This means that I'm constantly installing and uninstalling apps on my devices (a Nexus 5 and a Nexus 10), as well as my wife's iPad, and only a very specific set of products are kept in consistent use. I am constantly testing out different messaging services, news reader apps, games, various mobile browsers, weather app, etc. But, one service that has thus far been immune to abandonment from me has been Google Now.

Big companies are always looking to add new features or create new products that will help to "lock you in" to their ecosystems. Apple has been best known for this by controlling the entire line from hardware to software and the integration between those products. No company is innocent when it comes to this, but it is always in how the lock is set that makes the difference. Locking in users via monetary concerns, like iTunes, Google Play, or any other content store, is annoying but an acceptable side effect of doing business (at least with apps and games, not so much for other content). For me, Google Now has been the best lock yet, but I'm not sure I'm happy about it.

Integration is always the name of the game when it comes to locking in users. It's why Microsoft got into so much trouble when it was making Internet Explorer the default browser in Windows and bundling Office; and, why it was initially forced to split the company into the operating system and software divisions. It's why Facebook keeps adding more and more features to keep you on the site and away from that chaotic mess that exists outside of Facebook's walls. It's the reason why Microsoft created SkyDrive and the Metro UI, why Apple created iTunes and iCloud, why Amazon made the Kindle, Kindle Fire and its own cloud services, and why Samsung has slowly been replacing Google products with its own options. 

The good side of Google lock-in

Every company wants to keep the users it has, and incentivize other users to switch. Google is no different, but it has had the most conflict around most of its attempts to unify its products. If you look anywhere on the web, you're bound to find users complaining about Google+, because for some reason people think that Google should be the one company to leave all of its products as independent islands. The loudest voices will rage continuously about Google+ taking over YouTube (as if there has been nothing wrong with the rabid trolling in YouTube comments.) People complain about being "forced" to use Google+, even though no such thing exists. Your Google sign-in may create a Google+ profile, but the accuracy of the information there is still up to you, and in the end it is still just a Google sign-in and you don't have to use the main Google+ service if you don't want to. 

Of course, on the other side of the fence is the service that everyone loves, the service that couldn't exist without Google+ and the unification it brings to Google products: Google Now. Sure, there are those who get a bit creeped out by how much Google knows about you because of Google Now, but the use of the service is directly correlated to how much info you give to Google in the first place. If you don't use Gmail, or Google Calendar, or don't have the GPS or Google Search history turned on for your account, Google Now will be pretty much useless. 

But, if you live the Google life, as I have for years now, Google Now could quickly become the greatest piece of software that exists in your daily use. Suddenly, you won't have to search for directions or traffic to work or home or a place you recently searched for; you won't have to dig into your mail for shipping or travel info; and, you won't even have to go to a specific app to find sports scores or news that you're interested in because Google Now gives it all to you in one place. The convenience of the service is remarkable, and the serendipity of data is getting better and better at giving you information that you never expected right when you want it the most. 

All of this leads to a powerful lock-in to both Google services and to Android itself; because, while Google Now does exist on iOS, feature parity comes and goes for iOS users. Android users are always getting the newest options first (even if you aren't on the newest version of Android), and integration with the system is obviously much deeper, especially if you have a Nexus device that offers the Google Experience launcher. You wouldn't expect it, given how easy it is to simply swipe up from an on-screen home button and get into Google Now, but having it as part of your homescreen setup makes it feel much less like a separate piece to Android. Having it right there gives a more seamless experience to Google Now, meaning easier engagement and a stronger lock-in force. 

Users don't always want to be locked-in

Unfortunately, while lock-in is good for Google and for its hardware partners, it isn't always the best for users, even if it means that we get an amazing piece of tech like Google Now. As has been explained, Google Now can offer a huge amount of value, and you can get that value whether you're on Android (4.1 or higher) or iOS, but there's no option for Windows Phone users, nothing for BlackBerry users, and there is very little chance that you should expect to see Google Now on any of the new challengers in the mobile space like Tizen, FirefoxOS, or Ubuntu. It might be possible on Jolla, because of its support for Android apps (and even ways to access Google Play from the platform), but there's no guarantee that such a deeply integrated app like Google Search will work properly there. 

This can be quite annoying because Google almost always offers its services (to an extent) on any platform you want either through proper apps (on iOS), open standards support (for Gmail and Calendar), or web apps on any HTML5-capable platform (Google+, YouTube, Drive, Maps, etc); but, Google Now doesn't yet have a web app available, nor is there one in the foreseeable future. As I've talked about before, Google+ is the social hub for Google services whether you choose to use it or not, and Google Play is the content hub for Google products. But, a hub is not necessarily a lock, or at least not a very well made lock. Social services depend on social links, and if the people you want aren't on Google+, you won't find much stickiness there. Content services depend on users spending enough money that they wouldn't want to lose their investment. 

When it comes to Google Now, the lock is much more powerful, because it isn't dependent on social connections or content purchases. Google Now leverages your interests, daily activities, and habits. It requires limited active input on your part in order to provide value, because all of the data is generated by your use of other Google products. And, it will change and adapt as your life does because of that limit to active input. But, the other side to that coin is that because Google Now generates value in such a passive way, it is far less of a voluntary decision by a user to get sucked into the product. You have to choose to be active on Google+; you have to choose to purchase content in Google Play; but, for Google Now all you have to choose to do is use some (not even all) of Google's services.

Beyond that, Google Now is the real lock of the Google ecosystem because the only place to get it is in the Google Search app either on Android or iOS. It is by far the most restricted product in Google's arsenal, and for good reason. This is all to be expected of course. If you really love iTunes, you can't expect it to work with a non-Apple device because iTunes is the real lock-in for Apple's ecosystem, but if you value Android and Google for the choice each offers, Google Now becomes something of a love/hate relationship.

The difficulty of choice

For those of us who like to test out new options, and experiment with different platforms, any lock is troublesome, but after such a long time in the Google world I never expected such a powerful lock from the company. It is also quite annoying for any of you who are simply tired of the system you've got, and want a change. Because of the power inherent in integration, the best option is to go all-in on a certain ecosystem, regardless of if a specific product works better for you, because integration will always be better. Maybe you prefer Gmail, but would rather use Office 365 instead of Google Drive; or, the other way around and you prefer Outlook and Google Drive. Maybe you have a ton of content that you purchased in iTunes, but would rather use Android or Windows Phone. Maybe you don't like any of those options, and you get content from Amazon, email from Yahoo, docs through Zoho, calendar/tasks from Any.Do, and search through DuckDuckGo. 

It all ends up making user choices that much more complex and difficult. If I really wanted to, I could abandon Google services altogether. I could switch to Outlook or Yahoo mail, move my personal docs to Office 365 or Zoho, my tasks and to-dos to Remember the Milk or Zendone, my photos to Flickr or 500px, videos to Vimeo, cancel my Music All Access subscription for Spotify, and stop using Google Search and even Chrome if need be. As far as functionality on a per-app basis, I might not lose much, could actually gain features in some scenarios; and depending on the choices I made, it could help quite a bit if I wanted to trade in my Nexus devices for an iPhone or a Nokia Lumia. The trouble is that each service wouldn't work as well together; and, like many others, I won't be able to completely abandon certain products because of work. 

And, eventually I would miss Google Now, because there is no replacement for what it offers, which is both the mark of an innovative product, but also a well crafted lock. Because of the way I am personally wired, I constantly want to try new things. My wife has an iPhone and iPad, which helps to satiate desires to mess around with that mobile system. I have my duo of Nexus devices, which covers the Android side. When I want to, I can even wipe my Nexus devices and load up Ubuntu Touch to see how progress is going there (although uses are still fairly limited there). But, as much as I enjoy the Windows ecosystem, the convergence that it offers, and the hardware that Nokia has built, Google's locks on me limit my options in adopting Windows Phone. 

Conclusion: Google's tipping point

To an extent, I do understand Google's unwillingness to spend resources building for a platform with such a small market share. But, it is hard to ignore the strides that Windows Phone has made in the market, and it seems inevitable that at some point, it will become the third major mobile platform (assuming you don't yet consider it in that category.) The latest numbers from IDC say that Windows Phone has grown its global market share to 3.6%, and there have been various reports that show Windows Phone has been doing even better in some major European markets. So, the question really becomes: where is the tipping point in Google's view of emerging platforms?

It will certainly be a while before we see Tizen, Ubuntu, Jolla, or Firefox making enough waves to be considered as part of the conversation, but it is certainly possible that at least one of them will make a run at a respectable amount of market share. My money in that race would be with Tizen, because it always seems like a bad idea to bet against the Samsung juggernaut, but nothing is set yet. 

At some point, Google will have to recognize that a platform that had been considered "emerging" has crossed the barrier into being "established", and Google will have to commit real resources. Google may have a vested interest in the success of Android, and its Google Play services within that platform, but its overarching goal is still to bring its services to as many people as possible, regardless of how they access the internet. Native products are always better than web apps, and Google wants more eyes on its ads, which means more native apps on more platforms. Of course, as yet, Google Now doesn't contain ads, but that will no doubt change eventually, or at least there will be a wider range of cards for local offers and deals, which will serve the same purpose. 

That may be the impetus for Google to loosen the restrictions on Google Now. Or, it may just be a matter of time until Now gets a web app component, which has been rumored for a long time. Time will tell, but until Google removes the lock on Google Now, I know that I'll find it very difficult to leave Android. 



1. User72042

Posts: 23; Member since: Sep 30, 2013

Nice Article Michael,Nice...

2. Mxyzptlk unregistered

So what point are you trying to make?

3. Commentator

Posts: 3722; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

It's (pretty obviously) that while he loves Google Now, he'd like to see it open to more platforms. Problem?

32. Pancholo

Posts: 380; Member since: Feb 27, 2012

Reading comprehension edumacation.

4. Carlitos

Posts: 650; Member since: Oct 23, 2011

Great article. It would be great to Google services such as Now on Windows phone. But honestly Google is hesitant to give some of those features to ios devices. So i doubt we will see this in the near future for windows phone. Although Windows phone has made big strides, its market share still pales in comparison to Android which is almost 80% of the worlds market share.

5. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

I red the article very carefully because - as I don't see it myself - I wanted to understand what can Google Now do for me. It can tell me the route from/to work? I go there everyday - I'm not so dumb as to forget the directions... Weather? I have it by looking out the window (and I still have to search for other towns I travel because GN doesn't know where and when I travel - which is a good thing). Events? I already have calendar notifications. About the ability of a software to dermine what I like (It's not GN related, but it's based on the same principle): since I watched a few sec of a bad song on Youtube, Google keeps showing me that song in suggestions. Another example: let's say one searches for a name on the internet which happens to also be of a porno star; when one goes home to one's spuse and child and shows them pictures from the delegation, GN gives them all a card with the latest porno movie they can rent from the store across the street... See, I find Google Now to be rather arrogant; sure I could be wrong but I don't see a valid reason to believe so.

9. FYoung

Posts: 42; Member since: Oct 08, 2013

"It can tell me the route from/to work? I go there everyday - I'm not so dumb as to forget the directions..." Yes, but do you know that there's a traffic jam, how best to avoid it and how much earlier you need to leave because of the traffic? Google Now does. "Weather? I have it by looking out the window (and I still have to search for other towns I travel because GN doesn't know where and when I travel - which is a good thing)." Yes, but do you know the weather forecast this afternoon? And yes Google Now knows everywhere you will be travelling and the weather there, and when you have to leave, and what route is best, if you have your appointments set in the Google calendar or any other calendar that is synced to it. "Events? I already have calendar notifications." Yes, but Google Now can remind you how early to leave due to traffic. "Another example: let's say one searches for a name on the internet which happens to be of a porno star too; when one goes home to one's spuse and child and shows them pictures from the delegation GN gives them all a card with the latest porno movie they can rent from the store across the street..." I don't understand how Google Now would do that. All in all, the advantage of Google Now is its integration of many small things that don't amount to much by themselves (except search, which is huge) but add up to a unique and useful service, like the article says. Google Now is far from perfect, but it reportedly is already better than Siri and will likely get better. And yes, you have to trade quite a bit of privacy to get the most from it. Whether it's worth it is up to you.

18. FYoung

Posts: 42; Member since: Oct 08, 2013

PS: one other little thing, but I am not sure if it comes from Google Now or another Google service: Google sends me an email whenever my name or email address pops up on any web page anywhere in the world for the first time. I can set whether I want to be advised immediately, or on a daily or weekly basis. I like that.

28. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

I listen to the radio on my way to work; the local stations know where is a traffic jam (also, I live in an european city: we have lots of seccondary streets). Unless you live in Fukushima you pretty much know how the weather is going to be the entire day... Well, I don't tell my phone where I'm going to travell - I tell my wife but not my phone - so Google Now can't possibly know. Maybe a person in my pictures looks like that porno actress... I don't know how GN thinks, it's an effing robot; If this system is smart why on earth would Youtube be suggesting me to listen to Bieber when neither me, nor anyone else ever opened one of his songs?!

29. MartyK

Posts: 1043; Member since: Apr 11, 2012

Not to mention, Google Now give me the scores of my favorite team.. Lol, Life is good in G-Land; and Mike H. This is Google product, they don't have to offer it to any platform. Why do you and Microsoft feels Google need to give their product away?, I can't understand this; force Apple to give away Siri to other platforms

10. caustictoast

Posts: 31; Member since: Aug 07, 2012

It'll give you traffic to work not necessarily directions. You can use voice search for weather and it can tell you if you're taking a flight. When I'm flying to and from my school I do like to know what kind of clothes to bring. And just because you don't want today's weather doesn't mean you don't want the upcoming report. It can tell your upcoming calendar events, generally what's in the next few hours at a glance rather than having to wait for a notification to pop up. Google has safe search. It won't tell you a porn unless you're looking for it. More than anything it makes everything convenient and in one place. Which many people like

12. Commentator

Posts: 3722; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

"I wanted to understand what can Google Now do for me." It sounds more like your stretching to find excuses to NOT understand what it can do for you (SMH at the porno example... one of the dumbest things I've ever read here...) One [actual] example of how GN has helped me: I've used Google quite extensively for news regarding smartphones, tablets, etc. To that extent, Google Now will suggest various articles regarding mobile tech from sources that I would most likely have missed. It's done the same with my taste in movies and sports.

30. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

I realy want to understand but I'm not willing to accept that a it is usefull just because one tells me it is. I like better the Nokia way: locations/business information integrated with camera. Waze: I want traffic info, I open an app. Weather: If I travel by plane, I have plenty of time to open the app, if I travel by car, I don't care. Various articles: have you ever used Twitter? not only you get suggestions, you get tweets with articles. Siri: i tell it, she follows (not the other way arround). If GN can predict what you want, what you're going to do, where you're going to go, than your life is way too dull. You should change it in a way a robot would never be able to follow you around ;).

14. Commentator

Posts: 3722; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

(Also, lol at "Weather? I have it by looking out the window." To the same effect: "email? I have it by handing the postman letters.")

33. Pancholo

Posts: 380; Member since: Feb 27, 2012

"...when one goes home to one's spuse and child and shows them pictures from the delegation, GN gives them all a card with the latest porno movie they can rent from the store across the street..." You might wanna take a look at your filter settings, buddy. Also, it looks like you're trying too hard. Face it - integration is what everybody wants at some point in their lives. Some people simply take longer to accept change. Anyway, have fun tapping on your apps individually! (Like it's so much work, but hopefully you get my point!)

37. Leo_MC

Posts: 6935; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

But if I buy a Windows Phone or an iOS, I still have integration but I don't have to "look at my filter settings"...

6. androiphone20

Posts: 1654; Member since: Jul 10, 2013

wow this is a longread, better save it to Pocket

7. winter_hat

Posts: 110; Member since: Feb 04, 2013

I'm sick of Google riding a pass as if they are some sort of renegade. They are officially the man, the machine, they have a grasp on you and they won't let go. No longer do I consider them a source of freedom and inspiration and it's funny how they still seem to inspire those thoughts? If you need any indication of how talented and innovative they are, witness the absolute disastrous joke known as YouTube. If any other company did that to one of their prime resources, the stock would've plummeted. They don't care about you, I, freedom, privacy, nothing but money.... at any and all costs.

8. winter_hat

Posts: 110; Member since: Feb 04, 2013

P.S. Google Now is garbage

11. caustictoast

Posts: 31; Member since: Aug 07, 2012

Maybe you should actually try it instead of just assuming. Works perfectly for me

13. winter_hat

Posts: 110; Member since: Feb 04, 2013

Lol, I have it on my Nexus.

15. winter_hat

Posts: 110; Member since: Feb 04, 2013

I have it on my Nexus. Also had it on my S3, which I traded to my son, for said Nexus, when I went to BB10. They need to work on better battery life, improved antenna technology and reception, security and privacy, and improved UI (just steal BlackBerry 10, the Z30 does all of it.) Things we all need, instead of gimmicks some like, some hate, most don't use.

16. dratomic

Posts: 483; Member since: Oct 09, 2013

i cant help but feel like google is forcing everybody to use their services. like theyre pushing google plus down peoples throat. user count does not qualify as popularity. for example i have signed up for a lot of services like g+ or instagram just to dip a toe. but never returned.if something is good and useful people will crave it. theres no need to make people use googles less than stellar services.

21. grahaman27

Posts: 364; Member since: Apr 05, 2013

Active users, they always quote active users. Google plus IS STELLAR primarily because its not just a social media platform. I wish google marketed it under another category of services because nobody wants another Facebook. I hate Facebook and I don't post on google plus but I still use it for other features like news, twitter like following, play game sync, online conversation tracking etc...

23. dratomic

Posts: 483; Member since: Oct 09, 2013

news, games... like facebook ;)

17. sprockkets

Posts: 1612; Member since: Jan 16, 2012

I stopped reading the article after reading this: "It's why Microsoft got into so much trouble when it was making Internet Explorer the default browser in Windows and bundling Office; and, why it was initially forced to split the company into the operating system and software divisions." Sorry buddy, but you better re read the history books and see that the simple act of bundling IE wasn't the real issue. And Office was never, ever bundled for free or as a whole.

19. InspectorGadget80 unregistered

I only use my Google account YouTube/gmail and Google voice search service. Haven't tried GOOGLE DRIVE since I don't use it.

20. Whateverman

Posts: 3295; Member since: May 17, 2009

I'm not really sure if I get what you're saying here Michael.isn't Google Now meant to be a one stop shop for all Google products? So why would they want users to use anything else? as far as I know there is no ability to go into iTunes Store and purchase and Android App. Siri doesn't use Nokia maps for directions. So why Google should make Google Now... non Google?

22. JakeLee

Posts: 1021; Member since: Nov 02, 2013

Neither Apple nor Nokia pretended to be open, but Google has done. Read below :

24. winter_hat

Posts: 110; Member since: Feb 04, 2013

Great article, thanks. Articulated what I've been thinking but didn't know how to research/say. Hypocritical frauds.

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