Are Google confusing the Browser with Browsing?


Considering Chrome, Chrome OS and the recent H.264 decision further, it appears to me that Google are often allowing “what you know” technology to often dictate their strategy.

Google’s main competition in the supposed “smartphone” wars have understood accessing the web is more about the enablers and have moved beyond the browser. That’s not to say that any of the other Mobile Vendors have entirely ditched the browser, but they’ve instead decided that the function traditionally performed by the Browser, should instead be available system wide and, as in the case of iOS enabling any application running on the device to act as a web browser  if it chooses to do so.

Some time ago Apple made Webkit a fundamental part of the Mac OS and thence the iOS. In effect, Apple created an open environment for developers to create their application and just use some system available web functionality to enable a browsing session, if the user needs to access the web for a short time. Shorthand: Webengine = WebKit; Browser = Safari. It’s my understanding WindowsPhone7 has similar behaviour, but by calling it Internet Explorer, I’m unsure if they have learned the regulatory lessons of the past.

As an iPhone user, I rarely deliberately open Safari to go to a page, I instead redirect from the app I am currently using to just parse the content in it’s own UI using Webkit. I understand not everyone works this way, habits are hard to break after all, but the functionality is pervasive in the system.

In Google’s “all browser, all the time” view of the world they are aiming for a similar outcome: the web browser and the OS being the same thing to the user. This seems to fit with the nature of Google’s key products – search and advertising – being web based so  therefore need a browser to be successful.

The reality is subtly different. In Google’s future, the web is the prime reason to use a computer and therefore the web browser is the obvious interface to present first to the user. Naturally, this also serves to protect their core products. The concern is that using “what you know” to dictate your future strategy is defensive and likely to leave you floundering in the wake of any disruptive technology which might appear.

So I believe Google are doing this the wrong way around. They appear to be confusing the act of “Browsing” with the “Browser”. Browsing is the act of finding and consuming data on the web, whereas the Browser is the traditional tool used to perform “browsing”. As I’ve shown above, in 2011 on modern platforms, it is no longer necessary to use the “traditional tool” to browse the web.

By creating ChromeOS, Google understand that users no longer distinguish between browsing the web and using something locally. But by attempting to create Browser lock-in they appear to be basing their decision making on how the Web is accessed by the majority of users now. As we’ve seen with the growth of the iOS, despite it’s low percentage of the overall web browsing base, the better investment is likely to be browser independent.

True openness looks like enabling the customer to choose which tool they would like to access the web in. Browsing won’t stop after all as customers will still want to consume and create information on the web. They’ll just use the best and quickest available method to get to the data they are “browsing”.

As John Scully once said, making a strategic decision based upon what you know now about technology isn’t necessarily the best decision for your business.

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