Google is the dominant online force, and one of the biggest tech companies ever created. Its name has become synonymous with search, and its reach has extended to real-life navigation, interpersonal interaction, mobile functionality, and dozens of other functions. But even so, Google is not wholly independent; in addition to developing its own technologies, Google has historically been open to partnering with others to achieve the best possible result for online user experience.
A recent explosion in app integrations for Google Now is of particular interest. In the short-term, this new functionality is convenient and useful for consumers, but it also suggests an interesting long-term vision for Google’s future.
Those unfamiliar with Android devices or Google Chrome may not be aware that Google Now is a type of personal digital assistant, analogous to Apple’s Siri. Accessible within Chrome or Google Search, Google Now exists to help users find information and functionality they want based on contextual clues; in some ways, it’s a mini search engine with independent functionality designed to give a user a single answer rather than a list of options to explore.
Back in January, search marketers were particularly interested in Google Now after a significant boost in functionality; Google announced an integration with 40 different third-party apps. For example, the integrated Pandora app allowed users to access music within Google Now’s broader context, and similarly, users could request rides within Google Now by using the integrated Lyft app.
At the end of April, Google made a similar, even bigger announcement: it was adding 70 new apps to its third-party functions. Because each of these apps presents information in a similar, card-like form, the user experience is consistent despite moving from application to application.
The list of apps available on Google Now is pretty impressive, and it just keeps growing. In fact, Google is more than just open to using other apps—it’s actively encouraging developers to integrate. For example, it makes its integration documentation available to developers so they can easily adjust their apps and submit them for integration.
This isn’t the first time that Google has been open to integrating with other services, though with Google Now, the search giant appears to be taking a different approach. For example, last year, Google Maps integrated functions with Uber and with OpenTable to allow users to estimate ride fare and place restaurant reservations, respectively. So why is Google trying so hard to partner with outside forces?
Looking at Google’s past, third-party apps weren’t always treated with such enthusiasm. Instead, Google tried to do everything itself. You can see this in the wide range of products Google began offering and promoting throughout the mid- to late-2000s. Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Drive were all examples of this, as was Google+, launched as a direct competitor to Facebook and Twitter. Google’s long-term strategy seemed to be to find what type of apps people liked, make a better version of it, and promote it under the Google family of brands.
Now, Google’s approach seems to be shifting. With the blanket power Google has with its own operating system, its own digital assistant, and its own web browser, the search giant has the ability to incorporate other independent functions without sacrificing the visibility or user base of its own brand. In fact, other third-party brands would probably jump at the opportunity to be involved with a powerhouse like Google. Integrating those apps has virtually no downside for the visibility or usage of the Google brand; instead, it only increases the perception that Google is a useful service, because it combines so many other popular apps in such as convenient way. It’s a move toward a better user experience, which has always been Google’s ultimate goal.
The rise of mobile technology has led to the development of app-based functions; rather than using a web browser to find information or a service, users can consult apps directly for specific functions or specific types of information. As a result, fewer users are consulting web browsers and conventional web searches for their queries.
Google picked up on this trend early, and is doing everything it can to stay ahead of the technology race. While the company is still making strides in traditional online experiences and traditional search, it’s also heavily investing in its vision of the future; one where an “online experience” is dictated by a single operating system, switching seamlessly between different apps as needed without losing the cohesive factor of a blanket brand.
Should this trend continue to develop and users gradually warm to the idea of using apps exclusively for their online needs, the traditional “web” as we know it will slowly dissolve away. Traditional websites will no longer be necessary, and may no longer be relevant. Search engine optimization (SEO) will no longer be effective in its current form. Listings in aggregated services will become more important than individual services themselves.
Of course, this is a radical vision, and one that wouldn’t feasibly occur for another decade or so, but it is a possible future. One thing is for sure; Google is counting on the power and diversity of individual apps to continue growing, and it’s investing its resources accordingly. It’s time to start hedging your bets and develop an app for your business if you haven’t already.