Google's beta culture struggles when the price isn't free

Google's beta culture struggles when the price isn't free

Summary: Is the beta and iterate approach so bad? It is when you're forking over real dollars for something that should just work like your TV.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Google
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Logitech acting CEO Guerrino De Luca took his lumps in an investor meeting and blamed Google TV and Logitech's Revue for hefty losses. The Revue is gone and Logitech is doubling down on business via its LifeSize unit and retooling its product lineup for consumers.

De Luca's presentation got a lot of folks wound up. Here's the slide that hurts:

De Luca basically said Google TV had no business being on the market and was clearly a beta.

Is the beta and iterate approach so bad? It is when you're forking over real dollars for something that should just work like your TV. If the device is free then you give Google more leeway.

This beta disconnect follows through to other products. Google's Chromebook would be fine as a free device. For $500, Google's Chromebook is a tougher sell. DigiTimes reported that Acer only sold 5,000 Chromebooks. For business, Google's Chromebook makes sense for administration purposes. My ZDNet UK colleague Jack Schofield considers the Chromebook to be another "Googleflop." Sean Portnoy said the Chrome OS will continue. For Google's part, the company noted that it is getting Chromebook traction in education. In any case, you could argue that the Chromebook effort seems like a beta. Overall, it's far too early to call Chromebooks a flop for businesses. For consumers, Chromebooks haven't gained.

Also on the beta front, Google's Honeycomb Android launch was also clearly a beta that needed fixing later. That's fine unless you're buying an overpriced tablet like the Motorola Xoom. Android tablets still struggle with pricing and integration issues.

The more expensive a Google powered device is the less tolerance you have for a beta-ish feel.

Ultimately, Google's perpetual beta approach---outlined in this Knowledge@Wharton article---means that the company may have to reorganize. The launch fast and iterate works on the Web, but beta worship doesn't fly with integrated devices that may cost you $500. Google may have to form two divisions---one that's beta happy and another that doesn't cause key partners to lose a lot of money.

In other words, Google needs to realize that different markets require various approaches. Wharton prof Karl Ulrich drives the point home:

What you call the 'perpetual beta' has its origins in the spiral model of product development. Instead of fully detailing in advance exactly what the product will do and then engineering to that specification, the developer rapidly iterates through define-build-test cycles in order to take advantage of the learning that occurs in the interaction with the user. Obviously this approach would not work well with a Boeing commercial airframe. [That type of] product has to be right from the start and you don't want to have to maintain many different versions of the product in the field.

Topics: Mobility, Google

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30 comments
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  • GFail

    This article offers an insightful analysis, but is too forgiving to Google. This is a dinosaur corporation long ago corrupted by arrogance, with a track-record more of imitation than of innovation. Google led the way in search and are still dining out on that, but it all happened a decade ago now.

    #GFail
    Tim Acheson
    • Google is basically a one-trick pony: Search

      NT
      baggins_z
      • RE: Google's beta culture struggles when the price isn't free

        @baggins_z
        Android is very successful move into the operating system space by Google and hundreds of millions are made off of it yearly. Yes, much of the revenue derived from it by Google is in ads but their partners are raking in the dough on hardware sales. Also, most successful companies maintain their momentum by creating new products that tie into their core competencies. Take Microsoft. They really only have two successful products Windows and Office. Even the X-Box is vastly in the red when you consider how much money they've spent over the years on it. And the X-Box is still a software experience which is what MS is all about. Maybe you're the one trick pony.
        businessandpolitics
    • RE: Google's beta culture struggles when the price isn't free

      @Tim Acheson - To be fair, Logitech carry a lot of the blame for their losses too. Why did they commit so heavily to a platform that was clearly not ready?
      bitcrazed
      • Right. Last year CEO and top execs were all about GoogleTV

        @bitcrazed and its inevitable success. Now they blame Google, instead of looking at their bad decisions.
        otaddy
      • Revue hasn't failed yet. Logitech and Google have just failed to execute..

        @bitcrazed <br><br>I agree. One of their big problems was that they had priced the Revue way out of line for its market. At $99, it is perfectly priced though. They just need to go on an advertising offensive now with the new pricing and new/fixed GoogleTV version. Revue isn't actually a failure - YET. The concept is a good one, particularly with broadcast TV and cable now on the decline, but it is execution and timing for the product is the big issue. How many products get released too early, only to be successful later? The PDA/Smartphone is one of those that comes to mind. If it isn't Revue, it will be somebody else's device that will assume the mantle. Western Digital has the WDLive series, although they haven't gotten the kinks worked out of that either...
        admiraljkb
    • RE: Google's beta culture struggles when the price isn't free

      @Tim Acheson
      Google barely even mentioned Android in their last quarterly earnings report.
      One would think that such a strategic and "dominant" product sector would have been broken down in the report with some kind of cost/earnings statement. Instead, Google mostly just talks about mobile search income, which doesn't break down how much comes from Android or other platforms.
      Synthmeister
      • They don't mention Android for legal reasons

        @Synthmeister Google is claiming in court that they barely make any money with Android. They are not going to talk Android on earning reports because they know that by doing so, it will show to the court that they are lying.

        Also, by now they probably know that they have no chase of avoiding payment to Oracle for all the stolen IP and unlicensed patent tech they use in Android. This is the reason why they haven't release the source code for Honeycomb and will not be releasing the source code for ICS.
        wackoae
    • RE: Google's beta culture struggles when the price isn't free

      @Tim Acheson Why does every ZDNet commentator have to get up on a soapbox and channel Cotton Mather as they spew forth hyperbole and heap attacks on various companies or brands?

      I was just at Ars Technica the other day... people actually have intelligent discussions, and there's MODERATORS who do this crazy thing where they actually post warnings to people that if they're going to fill their post with extreme claims or statements then they're going to need to back them up with evidence rather than leave them as unproven assertions or they'll be deleted. There's no cast of trolls either. Then I come back here today and... Tim Acheson makes me cry a little. :-(

      In the spirit of Ars... Tim, you're going to need to support the assertions of "dinosaur corporation", "corrupted", "arrogance", and "track record more of imitation than innovation".
      jgm2
  • RE: Google's beta culture struggles when the price isn't free

    I would buy a chrome OS PC (not a notebook) if its as small as a Roku box and costs 200$ or less.
    mKind
  • Larry Page should watch the Steve Jobs video that's coming to theaters.

    There's a part in it about "polishing stones" that he should take to heart. Basically, the idea is that a product isn't "polished" as it's first conceived, but is improved on during the design process by designers arguing, fighting, refining. Google lets products loose before they're polished. SJ wouldn't do that.
    Userama
    • Siri is in &quot;beta&quot; mode, and it was used as the main feature in marketing

      for the iPhone 4S. And, SJ was still alive when the 4S/Siri was in the planning and development stages. <br><br>Apple is as guilty of the "beta" sin as Google, and perhaps even more so, because, the 4S is a lot more expensive than Google TV.
      adornoe
      • Siri was actually called beta.. unlike honeycomb, unlike Google TV..

        @adornoe@... and Siri is actually quite polished.. unlike honeycomb, unlike google TV...
        doctorSpoc
      • RE: Google's beta culture struggles when the price isn't free

        @adornoe@...
        Not quite. Neither Revue or Xoom(or any of the Android tablets) sold. Next, Xoom shipped in a unstable fashion, missing flash, a working SD slot and the LTE support.

        Those features, when you purchased the Xoom didn't work. The SD slot didn't work until...July? August? Siri is working right now.
        dhmccoy
      • doctorSpoc: Irrelevant!

        The fact remains that, a "beta" product was used to sell a "new" version of the iPhone, and that's something that would seem to be underhanded when extracting a large amount of money from people's pockets. Siri could have been used when it was "ready" and not in "beta" mode. Beta means, "not ready" yet, and "if you do have some problems, well, tough luck, because, we (Apple) branded it as 'beta'".

        Not cool!
        adornoe
      • dhmccoy: Also irrelevant!

        If a product is branded as "beta", it should cost people any money to get. If any other product or gadget is sold, and not branded as "beta", then the manufacturer would be expected to correct any problems or to issue a better working similar/same product. That's what warranties are about. Beta, by definition, is not guaranteed. And, if not guaranteed, it shouldn't be a paid option.
        adornoe
      • RE: Google's beta culture struggles when the price isn't free

        @adornoe@...
        I see the point you are getting at. If Siri was a paid service then Apple would be doing it's Siri customers a disfavour. Good thing it's not a paid service though, but if it were I definitely see what you're getting at.
        anono
      • RE: Google's beta culture struggles when the price isn't free

        @adornoe@... <br><br>Siri is one of the many features on the iPhone 4S. You don't even have to use it if you don't want to, to enjoy the iPhone. GoogleTV was beta software, from the complexity of its UI to the manufacturers required keyboard accessories. Even the main draw of GoogleTV, watching network web content on TV (Hulu for instance) was blocked because Google failed to work out deals prior to launch. Why would anyone pay $300 and above for such a flawed product?
        dave95.
      • RE: Google's beta culture struggles when the price isn't free

        @adornoe@...
        Siri has been clearly labeled "beta" and didn't cost extra to use.

        The Google TV cost $300 and was NOT labeled beta.
        Synthmeister
      • anono, dave95,doctorSpoc: You people are missing the point, and even if

        Siri is a "free service", the point is that, without the "coolness" that was being marketed with Siri, the iPhone4S would probably have been considered not worthy of being called an upgrade, no matter what the internal specs.

        The fact is that, iPhone marketing is using Siri as the main feature and the main selling point, and people are definitely paying to get the iPhone 4S because of Siri. In effect, people have been hoodwinked into getting a product because of a beta feature, and beta should not be getting charged for.
        adornoe