Google – the Phantom Menace

No, seriously.

Let’s start with a fact that is indisputable: AT&T sucks. This is not up for debate. The sky is blue, the grass is green, Tennessee football players have carnal knowledge of cattle, and AT&T sucks.

Stipulate further that Apple really didn’t have a choice. There are four national mobile phone carriers. T-Mobile only has 1900 Mhz coverage without roaming. Verizon uses CDMA technology and wanted to second-guess Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive on interface design. Sprint? Don’t make me laugh. If you want to build a phone for the whole world, and start in the US, your only call is AT&T Wireless (or Cingular, as it was at the time). In retrospect, the fact that Apple got as many concessions as they did is proof of the Reality Distortion Field.

Now, however, AT&T has a problem – the iPhone is so successful that its user base is growing faster than AT&T can build out infrastructure to support it. iPhone users consume orders of magnitude more data that other smartphone users, which means that 3G capacity will get maxed out. In places like San Francisco or New York, it will get pummeled. There are countless stories of people who had iPhones and gave up, simply because it was impossible to get any kind of reliable service from AT&T. It has reached the point where I am, for the first time, actively considering whether to a) jailbreak my iPhone or b) consider a different smartphone altogether.

See, I wasn’t kidding when I said Google’s G1 was the first iPhone challenger worth taking seriously. I look at the things I use the iPhone for – podcast download and playback, social network stuff (FB, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, etc), RSS feed reading, tracking public transit in the Bay Area, making dinner reservations on OpenTable, Wikipedia lookups, programming the DirecTV DVR, directions on Google Maps…let’s face it, 90% of this stuff can be done on the G1 right now, and unlimited messaging and data on the G1 is a third the price of the iPhone. And while 3G is limited to T-Mobile’s exclusive 1700Mhz band, and it’s not built all the way out, it could hardly be more overtaxed than AT&T’s ever-tardy 3G.

Sure, I’d be giving up MobileMe, but there’s Google Mail, Google Calendar, a contact system that links with Google Voice, it all links with iCal and Mail on the Mac through the same iSync, I could replicate my own setup without a hitch and save several bucks a month…

…hold up.

Mobile Me = Google Mail + Google Calendar + Google Photos

iWork or Office = Google Docs.

Loopt/Foursquare/Dodgeball = Latitude.

All your calling, SMS, visual voicemail, Skype and IM = Google Voice and Gtalk

WordPress and half a dozen others = Blogger

RSS = Google Reader

Navigation = Google Maps

And that’s without taking into account 1-800-GOOG-411, Google SMS, the iGoogle portal, or – be honest – probably 99.999% of all your web searches since about 2001. And if you live in Mountain View, California, Google may even be your ISP.

Microsoft was the great devil of Web 1.0, but let’s face it – all they had was an OS, a browser and an office suite. The hottest things going now are smartphones (Microsoft’s smartphone OS has never stopped sucking), social networking (Microsoft hasn’t got one), location-based services…the thing is, Microsoft’s entire world has always been about owning the OS space with Windows and making sure everything needed Windows to work. And right now, of all the new hotness, none of it – not one single solitary bit – depends on Windows.

But Google…

When’s the last time you used Bing, or Cuil, Teoma, or WolframAlpha, or anything else for more than a couple of test searches the day of launch? Who are you using for webmail? How about IM? When you need directions, where do you go? Mapquest? LiveEarth? Just today, NewsGator – maker of the most popular RSS reader for iPhone or Macintosh, NewNewsWire – announced that Google Reader is replacing their own web service on the back end of those apps. Think about this: if you had to give up every single Google service, how well would you day-to-day computing life go?

Microsoft had your desktop. Google has your data. And the only thing standing between your data and a reign of terror that would make Bill Gates look like Winnie the Pooh is the vague promise “Don’t be evil.” Is Google evil? No more than any other company. Certainly not more evil than Apple, for instance. Far less evil than your typical cable company or baby Bell. But knowing what the world is like, and knowing where virtue ranks among American business metrics, are you prepared to hang your online livelihood on “don’t be evil”?

Once again, as ever, we return to President Reagan’s old Russian maxim: “trust, but verify.”

One Reply to “Google – the Phantom Menace”

  1. I know I’m biased since I sleep with you and all, but I really do think this is one of the best pieces you’ve written. I know I’ve heard this message from you for quite some time now, but this was really well written. I think this could be modified slightly (might have to remove the carnal knowledge reference) and published… somewhere. You know, where they pay and stuff.

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