What Google’s Latest Product Closures Teach Us About Intrapreneurship 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Explore the intricate balance of risk and reward in Google's culture of intrapreneurship as we dissect the rise and fall of its most ambitious projects — lessons that echo across the Google Graveyard.

Google’s approach to product development has always been one of exploration and calculated risk. The tech giant has produced transformative products like Android and Google Chrome, which have achieved near-ubiquity in their respective markets by embracing intrapreneurship.

Intrapreneurship allows leaders to drive innovation from within their organization by harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of their employees. Think of it as an internal playground for creativity. Google’s Gmail is an excellent example of how small ideas within big companies can be turned into game-changers. But this culture of innovation often comes with a graveyard of discontinued projects.

The End of Google Podcasts and Jamboard 

The latest victims of this strategy — Google Podcasts and Google Jamboard — point to a larger trend within the company to consolidate and focus its offerings. Google Podcasts’ features will be folded into YouTube Music, marking a strategic pivot to align podcasting with a more established and popular platform.

YouTube Music’s growing focus on podcasts underscores the increasing importance of spoken audio content, converging the worlds of music and podcasts into a unified audio experience. 

The discontinuation of Google Jamboard, a 55-inch digital whiteboard designed for educational and work settings, raises questions about Google’s commitment to niche hardware projects.

It’s not just about cutting losses; these decisions often reflect Google’s evolving understanding of user behavior and market trends. However, the abrupt end of services has left some businesses and individual users questioning the long-term viability of adopting Google’s newer initiatives.

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As the Google Graveyard rapidly approaches 300 failed or retired projects over its 25-year history, many are beginning to wonder if the tech behemoth has commitment issues. Let’s look back through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia to try and learn why Google abandoned so many of its software and hardware projects.

How Security Breaches and Low Engagement Sank Google+

Google+ entered the social media scene in 2011, promising to be the next big thing in social networking. Despite the integrated features and capabilities linking it with other Google services, the social media platform never took off. It was bundled with popular Google services like YouTube and Google Drive, and it introduced innovative features like “Circles” for sorting contacts and “Hangouts” for video chats. Yet, Google+ struggled to remove users from already established platforms like Facebook. 

Despite being lauded as the next Facebook, engagement remained low, and many people who had Google+ accounts through their Gmail or YouTube accounts weren’t even unaware they had one or didn’t use it actively. Many likened it to a gym where everyone had a membership — but nobody visited.

Adding insult to injury, Google+ faced a major setback when it suffered from significant data breaches in 2018, exposing user information. While Google cited “low usage” and the “challenges of maintaining a successful product” as reasons for shutting down Google+, these security flaws accelerated its demise. The first breach led to an expedited plan to shut down the platform by April 2019.

Sadly, Google+ serves as a case study of how even a tech giant like Google can fail to capture social engagement when pitted against entrenched competitors and how security issues can hasten the downfall of an already struggling service.

5 Billion Downloads, Yet Forgotten: The Paradox of Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts had a rollercoaster ride, starting strong but eventually fading away. Launched in 2011, it quickly became the first choice for users with its simple design and multiple features like text, voice, and video chats. With 5 billion downloads, it seemed like a hit. But things changed in 2016 when Google brought out Allo, a new and fancier chat app with built-in Google Assistant. 

Over the next five years, Google rolled out four more apps to replace Hangouts, finally merging it into Google Chat in 2022.

The downfall of Hangouts can be traced back to several issues. One major factor was Google’s tendency to chase exciting launches instead of sticking with and improving existing products. This led to Hangouts being sidelined and eventually phased out, concluding its up-and-down journey in the tech giant’s lineup of social tools.

Ahead of its Time: The Unfulfilled Promise of Google Glass

The arrival of Google Glass in 2013 immediately excited the tech community with its promise to make augmented reality a part of everyday life. Even before it was publicly available, TIME Magazine declared it one of the best inventions of 2012, further fueling the hype around its release.

High-fashion magazine Vogue even dedicated a 12-page spread to Google Glass, indicating that the device had captured the public imagination at multiple levels. Despite the initial buzz, Google Glass quickly became embroiled in controversies ranging from privacy concerns to the $1,500 price tag. These issues were exacerbated by unfortunate incidents, such as users getting pulled over for wearing glasses while driving or being arrested for using the device in movie theatres and users being labeled “Glassholes.”

Aside from the PR nightmare, the device’s limitations and poor battery life made it impractical for day-to-day use. Google Glass quickly moved from a symbol of technological innovation to a cautionary tale. By 2015, Google announced it would no longer offer a consumer version, relegating the device to enterprise applications. 

While the device continued to find applications within specialized industrial or medical settings, it failed to become the consumer hit that Google had hoped for. Yet, it’s important to note that Google’s early foray into wearable augmented reality tech has paved the way for other companies to explore similar ventures. Now, with a more accepting public attitude toward smart glasses, one could argue that Google Glass was ahead of its time, offering lessons in the challenges and opportunities of wearable technology.

Maybe the forthcoming release of the Apple Vision Pro, priced at $3,499, will finally confirm whether Google was ahead of its time or if history is poised to repeat itself.

Why Google Play Music Couldn’t Outplay Spotify

Google’s foray into the music streaming world began promisingly with Google Play Music, a service that gained traction for its unique feature allowing users to upload their existing music libraries. This was a free alternative to subscription-based models; users could even purchase songs like iTunes for a period. 

However, Google’s ambitions didn’t stop there; they aimed to directly rival Spotify and Apple Music. To realize this, Google rebranded Google Play Music to YouTube Music in 2020, touting several supposed advantages, such as access to remixes, covers, and live versions of songs, along with AI-driven personalized recommendations. 

Despite these features, YouTube Music couldn’t outpace Spotify or Apple Music in capturing user engagement and loyalty. Meanwhile, Google’s other Play apps also met similar fates, with Play Movies & TV morphing into Google TV in 2021 and will finally be put out of its misery next month. Again, this series of shifts and closures illustrates Google’s challenge in penetrating markets where strong incumbents already exist despite its innovative attempts.

The Achilles Heel of Cloud Gaming: Stadia’s Latency Challenges

Stadia’s journey from its audacious inception to its unfortunate demise in 2023 presents a compelling case study on the perils and complexities of technological disruption in the fiercely competitive gaming industry. On the surface, Google’s approach was refreshingly novel: capitalizing on cloud computing to democratize gaming access, minimize hardware dependencies, and lower consumer entry costs.

They envisioned a future where blockbuster games could be as quickly streamed as Netflix shows, requiring nothing more than a solid internet connection. Their partnerships with industry behemoths like Ubisoft and Rockstar Games signaled a strong initial play for market share and consumer trust.

Yet the venture was plagued by a litany of challenges. Foremost among these was the need for robust, high-speed internet—a prerequisite that proved to be a significant accessibility barrier for a considerable segment of potential users. In the United States alone, an estimated 42 million people lack the requisite internet infrastructure. Additionally, Stadia’s value proposition was undermined by a lackluster portfolio of exclusive content and consumers’ inherent risk in investing in cloud-based titles. To exacerbate the issue, the platform’s performance inconsistency became its Achilles heel; real-world latency and reliability issues too often betrayed the theoretical promise of hassle-free gaming.

Google’s ultimate decision to pull the plug on Stadia this year is a sobering reminder of how even the most visionary tech solutions can falter when they misalign current consumer readiness, market conditions, or infrastructural realities. However, Google’s gracious handling of the platform’s sunset—offering full refunds to its user base—indicates a level of customer-centric responsibility that, while not salvaging the Stadia venture itself, may mitigate reputational damage and provide important lessons for future technological innovations.

The Bottom Line

Google’s approach to innovation is like a rapid-fire brainstorming session—launch multiple ideas and see which ones gain traction. This strategy embodies agility but is not without its downsides. Many are beginning to question the company’s commitment to long-term product development after being burned by investing in Google’s long list of abandoned platforms.

There is no avoiding the fact that we seldom think of Google when listening to music, enjoying podcasts, playing games, or chatting with friends online. While the tech giant is known for launching products ahead of their time, it struggles to impact areas where people are already actively engaged significantly.

The recent shuttering of products like Google Glass, Stadia, and Hangouts prompts a critical look at the tech giant’s innovation culture. It is a complex tale of both triumph and caution. Google’s willingness to take risks is part of its DNA, a culture of intrapreneurship that breeds disruptive technologies. But herein lies the paradox: the thrill of birthing the ‘next big thing’ can sometimes overshadow the due diligence required to make it sustainable and keep users loyal.

So, can a company be too trailblazing for its sound? Google’s product retirements serve as a learning lab for the company and the entire tech landscape. They reveal the tightrope between market readiness, sustainable development, and user commitment. These product closures should not be viewed solely as missteps but as milestones on Google’s journey of innovation—a journey fraught with discovery and lessons learned.

Ultimately, this ongoing narrative is an essential case study for anyone vested in technology’s future. It highlights the need to balance unbridled innovation with the equally crucial task of long-term product stewardship—a dilemma that will define the contours of the tech industry for years to come.

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Neil C. Hughes
Senior Technology Writer

Neil is a freelance tech journalist with 20 years of experience in IT. He’s the host of the popular Tech Talks Daily Podcast, picking up a LinkedIn Top Voice for his influential insights in tech. Apart from Techopedia, his work can be found on INC, TNW, TechHQ, and Cybernews. Neil's favorite things in life range from wandering the tech conference show floors from Arizona to Armenia to enjoying a 5-day digital detox at Glastonbury Festival and supporting Derby County.  He believes technology works best when it brings people together.