Google Pack's real innovation is Updater
By Charlene Li
On Friday at CES, Google unveiled Google Pack (along with the new Google Video Store – for more details on the video announcement, check out my colleague Josh Bernoff’s blog post). Besides downloading a whole suite of useful security, communication, and entertainment utilities, Pack also happens to make available all of Google’s applications, from Toolbar to Picasa.
What’s interesting to me about Pack is that it’s an innovation on an existing practice – the bundling of third-party software by ISPs like AOL, Earthlink, MSN, and Yahoo!. But in this case, Google is offering Pack free and unbundled from any ISP service, all in the name of improving the user experience.
But the real beauty behind Pack is Updater, the little program that automatically installs and updates the software. (In fact, it’s installing Pack right now as I’m writing this post I Word and posting it via TypePad – the computer hangs every once in a while, which is annoying, but for the most part, I see no degradation in my PC’s performance.) Once installed on the PC, Google has a direct conduit to the user’s desktop, which will be extremely valuable in pushing its own applications (current and future). Think of it as the next front in the portal/search wars to tie in user loyalty.
I believe that this opens up some interesting opportunities. First, software makers will be clamoring to be included in Pack, but will have to first get through Google’s review. In addition, companies like Dell may be interested in including Updater on new PCs to make that initial install of software much easier. Lastly, I fully expect AOL, Yahoo!, and Microsoft (which has Windows Updater already) to jump into the fray. After all, they already have existing relationships with third-party software providers that they can turn to.
But most significantly, I believe this changes the nature of the relationship between Google and the user. As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I believe that Google has up to this point been regarded more as a utility (albeit, a really, really useful one) than as the lynchpin of an online experience. But with Pack and Updater specifically, the user now not only becomes dependent on Google to smooth the experience, but also places a great deal of trust in Google to do the right thing – everything from choosing the right software to include to making sure that updates are bug-free.
One thing I think that will ensure that Google maintains that user trust is to increase the scope of the software being offered, and to be more transparent about why it decided to include one software option over the other. In a post-CES speech press conference, Larry Page couldn’t give a definitive reason why Pack decided to include only RealNetwork’s RealPlayer – but he did say that Google was open to including multiple software types in an area like media players to enable consumer choices. I would love to see iTunes and Internet Explorer included – I have to use IE for work-related applications – but I wonder just how open Google would be to including competitors products. In the end, if Google is truly committed to improving the end user’s experience, it would strike deals with the most popular and useful applications, regardless of whether it comes from a competitor or not.