Google shuts down Google Labs

The company is abandoning the prototyping facility that gave birth to Google Docs, Google Maps and iGoogle, as part of chief executive Larry Page's quest to get 'more wood behind fewer arrows'

Google is shutting down its product prototyping facility, Google Labs, the company has announced.

In a blog post by research chief Bill Coughran, Google said it wanted to achieve "greater focus" in order to "make the most of the extraordinary opportunities ahead". The title of the blog post echoes chief executive Larry Page's pronouncement last week that Google had to move to having "more wood behind fewer arrows".

"In many cases, this will mean ending Labs experiments — in others we'll incorporate Labs products and technologies into different product areas," Coughran explained on Wednesday. He stressed in a later update to the blog that product-specific prototyping facilities such as Gmail Labs and Maps Labs will continue to exist.

Coughran also pointed out that many Labs products that have become Android apps will continue to be available in the Android Market, and the search giant will provide updates on the strategy shift through the Google Labs website.

Page took over from Eric Schmidt — now Google's executive chairman — as chief executive in January. Since then, he has reorganised the management structure of the company around the various Google product lines.

Some product lines have been abandoned in that time, with Google notably withdrawing entirely from the smart energy and healthcare industries in June, when it said it would wind down its PowerMeter and Google Health projects.

In many cases, this will mean ending Labs experiments — in others we'll incorporate Labs products and technologies into different product areas.

– Bill Coughran, Google

Google Labs has been the breeding ground for some of the company's biggest successes, letting the public play with new ideas to identify interest and feed back suggestions. Google Docs and Spreadsheets, iGoogle, Reader and Google Maps all graduated from the Labs to become significant products.

Several familiar Android apps also started life in the Labs, notably Goggles, Shopper and Listen. As Coughran pointed out, these are likely to survive within the Android ecosystem.

However, some Labs projects never officially graduated, as interest in them either waned or only existed in minimal quantities in the first place. Google Desktop has been around for seven years, but is now arguably more notable for consuming processing resources than for its utility. Google Squared, an attempt to let users create spreadsheets based on filtered search results, has been little seen since its launch in 2009.

The most recent addition to Google Labs came less than a month ago — Swiffy is a developer tool for converting Adobe Flash files to HTML 5, intended to ensure rendering compatibility on a greater range of devices.

While the shift to a tighter focus has led to the closure of Google Labs, it will not lead to any changes in '20-percent time', whereby the company's engineers are allowed to spend one-fifth of their work hours on their own projects.

"The closure of labs was a separate consideration to 20-percent time," a Google spokesman told ZDNet UK. "We'll continue to devote a subset of our time to newer and experimental projects. In fact, we'll be focusing this same creative energy on bigger bets, with bigger potential long-term payoffs."

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