I'm pretty sure Google is breaking up with me

Last week one of my friends sent me a screenshot of her Facebook "On This Day" feed where I was trying to get everyone to leave Facebook for Google+. She had her laugh, and so did I, but I found myself still thinking about it a couple of days later.

Google shutting down its slowly dying social network wasn't a surprise, and it wasn't really something that upset me, but remembering the original promise of Google+ left me kind of angry. At its start, Google+ was the continuation of this larger vision the company had for its services, and that entire vision has now completely disappeared.

And I'm probably not going to get over it.

Long before Google+, I got my whole family hooked on Hangouts and Google Reader. Over that year I had just about everyone I knew using both of them, and it was great. When Google Voice came out, my whole family signed up for that as well. This was a Google family, and most of my friends followed suit. The ecosystem I'd created for myself was fantastic. I didn't need to know anyone's phone number. I didn't need to have a bunch of different messaging apps installed. Everything just worked.

The only barrier to entry was a Google account, and everyone not only had one of those but absolutely loved using it right? RIGHT?!

For me, Google+ took this ecosystem I'd created for myself and expanded it to the rest of the world. When I wanted to talk to a friend on G+, I tapped in their name and could immediately reach them via Hangouts. I didn't need to know anyone's phone number or address, just their online profile. To me, this was the future. And it was only going to get better as Google started talking about unifying different chat services under the Hangouts banner.

This was supposed to be a single communication layer, completely replacing all of these aging and broken communication mechanisms we'd been using as the internet grew up around us. No hardware boundaries, no need to remember nine different apps to reach all your friends and family, just an internet connection and you're there with the rest of the world.

Some of this excitement was borne of my own ignorance. I mean, the only barrier to entry was a Google account and everyone not only had one of those but absolutely loved using it, right? Right?! Wrong.

As Google was constructing its web-based walled garden, Microsoft and Apple were making sure there were at least some competing services for people to fall in love with. And a lot of my thought then was very U.S.-centric; the rest of the world didn't have access to this experience for a variety of reasons. To those people, the Google account was the obnoxious other account they had to sign in to in order to reach some of their friends. And my personal bubble was not as big as I thought it was; there simply weren't that many people who both saw and wanted Google in their entire web experience.

Unfortunately, by the time Google realized lots of folks would rather have pieces of their experience instead of an all-or-nothing approach, it was too late. Google Reader had already been shut down to encourage people to use G+ as their news feed, Hangouts had already not lived up to its unified messaging promise, and YouTube was filled with videos of people actively raging about being forced to use G+ as a comment moderation system.

For people like me, things have only gotten worse. Hangouts is now an "enterprise" app, in exchange for two different apps (Allo and Duo) which both rely heavily on phone numbers for identity. Google+ is on the way out. Inbox, another app I love, is dying. None of the things I once saw as pillars of the Google experience are going to be here in a year. The unified Web, which I now admit was never really a thing to begin with, will soon be fully eradicated.

Google's priorities have shifted, and as difficult as it is for me to admit those new priorities are generally better. My Lenovo Smart Display tells me when I need to leave my house to get to a meeting on time; Google Photos automatically pings my parents when I've backed up photos of their grandkids, and my Pixel 3 will soon screen calls for me.

Google Assistant is the new unified experience. This layer across all of Google that improves my life by doing things for me. I still want those other things, and I still think Google is the best company to handle the challenges associated with unifying communication across the world, but it doesn't seem like that's going to happen anytime soon.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

51 Comments
  • Guess it's not good then that I haven't gotten on board with the assistant thing.
  • Same. The more I hear Google about all the great things that Assistant can do, I think, "that's fine, but I'm NEVER going to use it." I wish Google would focus on things that might actually be useful sometime in the next decade.
  • Yup, I don't use Assistant either. Plus, I learned a long time ago never to invest my time into anything Google outside of Gmail. Anyone remember Google Wave? How about Orkut?
  • While I get and to an extent agree with the sentiment of this article, I have to disagree (factually) with this : " Hangouts is now an "enterprise" app, in exchange for two different apps (Allo and Duo) which both rely heavily on phone numbers for identity" Hangouts is most certainly not an enterprise app (and as someone who uses "enterprise" Google for my job, it's not even the preferred Google method of enterprise chat, which is now "Hangouts Chat," an app that is distinct from Hangouts but that shares the same communication method as OG Hangouts). Allo is basically deprecated... in favor of Hangouts. Google's biggest problem in the communications space is their lack of a cohesive vision (which they finally seem to at least have in the "Connected Home" space). I remember when they announced Allo / Duo, as if people wanted to replace one working app with two non-working ones, and am quite relieved it never panned out.
  • The problem with Google Messaging is that it is not convenient to use off of the phone. Also, Google wasted too much time and resources trying to cater to internet complainers. SMS Support. Google Voice. Hangouts Dialer... IT's like they were trying to clone Skype, when they really only needed to clone WhatsApp. All they needed was WhatsApp's functionality in a modern UI with Google Duo's phone number account registration system (and easy account deletion, if needed); and then end-to-end encrypt the messages by default. Hangouts was far too limited on release, particularly if you did NOT have a Google+ Profile... And I didn't want a Google+ Profile because there was literally no reason to be there over Facebook, particularly when the people simply weren't moving over. It takes more than "Family and Friends" (what does this even mean, anyways? in the grand scheme of things) to make a Social Network useful - never mind enjoyable to spend time gawking at. Google let Facebook take all the acquisitions they needed to really compete in the Messaging and Social Space: Instagram and WhatsApp.
  • Hangouts should have been better updated and added as the only way to message in Android. If they had made it the default messaging app with Android, it would have taken off. I still use it today with Google Voice since it is the best way to message from all devices to all platforms. I can't understand their direction (or lack of) with messaging. Removing the transparent UI from Chrome may be the final straw that pushes me to another messaging app. So sad :(
  • Insightful, great piece Russell!
  • "Google Assistant is the new unified experience." Friendly warning: don't get to reliant on Assistant either. It's a service as limited and useless as many other Google services for most people who live outside the US (there are a few market exceptions...but there are 195 countries in the World, not 10). I personally am not affected at all by the shutting down of Google+ or any of the other services. To be completely honest, if I wanted a cohesive ecosystem controlled by one company alone, I'd be using Apple products.
    I, however, don't. I personally prefer to have every service as independent as possible from one another. Which is why I'm eager for the EU to force Google to make their apps and services uninstallable on all Android phones. I like to keep my services as separate as possible.
    And I like to keep away from Google services as much as possible too. I don't need nor want anything from Google other than Search and YouTube. Every single other Google service is absolutely useless to me. So it's good that Google is breaking things apart for people to pick and choose what they prefer. I get the appeal of a closed ecosystem for some people. But for that, Apple already does a good job. I like alternatives that do it differently (well, at least for now...with Google's new iPixel-path of copying everything Apple does, all of this might be reversed).
  • >>>Which is why I'm eager for the EU to force Google to make their apps and services uninstallable on all Android phones. I like to keep my services as separate as possible.<<< does apple /samsung have to do the same i.e. let you uninstall whatever app you want to?
  • Apple have already made that change in iOS 11 (last year). Any of the preinstalled apps can be uninstalled, barring only a couple bare essentials (App Store, settings, things you might be screwed without and would be considered more part of the operating system than applications). It’s almost like they saw the other antitrust lawsuits of the past and reacted accordingly like any conscientious company should.
  • Apple just removes the links on the Home Screen and the File/Protocol/URL Associations. And you can't set another default after doing so. "Remove" Apple Maps, and now you have no app on your device to handle mailto:// protocols by default, so you will get an error message whenever you tap on an email address link... The issue with Google has nothing to do with them being preloaded. It's deeper than that. It's more similar to Microsoft's case with IE than anything Apple and Samsung are doing. When you have the market position that Google has, Anti-Trust complaints become a reality. This is why Apple is smart to focus solely on the upper end of the market. It ensures that they can make bank with their absurd profit margins, but they will never have to undergo this type of scrutiny because the price points that they target makes it impossible for them to achieve the marketshare an OS/Product like Windows or Android has in their respective markets.
  • Yes, Samsung already allows you to do so. On the S9 the only apps you can't uninstall are the basic phone functions ones (sms, phone, calendar) and the ones where Samsung has a marketing deal (Microsoft and Facebook).
    It's not the same thing, though. Google can pre-install their apps and services on their iPixels freely. What they can not do is abuse their monopoly in the European smartphone market to force OTHER OEMs to also install their apps and services and not allowing people to get rid of them. As for Apple, they are selling their product with their apps and services. Not forcing other vendors to follow their rules (well, add to that that Apple's marketshare in Europe is irrelevant as they hold no power whatsoever over the smartphone market).
  • Most Android Apps won't work without Google Play Services. Google has moved a ton of thier Apis to Play Services, so it's a lock-in, right now. It takes quite a bit of effort to do a complete port over to Android forks (like Amazon FireOS). So, even if they make them uninstallable, you likely won't be able to use a lot of apps on Android without the core Google Services installed. My US Galaxy Note9 only comes with like 8 Google Apps that I cannot uninstall. Most Google Apps weren't installed at all, and much of what actually was there was installed from Play Store during the setup experience. All Google Play Apps except Play Store and about 6 others (Chrome, YouTube, Maps, Gmail, Drive, etc.) are completely uninstallable. Photos can be uninstalled. Docs, Sheets, Slides, Calendar, Contacts, Keep, Reminders, Podcasts, Play Games, etc. etc. None of that is in the Firmware. They can be completely uninstalled. What is installed, is installed from Play Store when setting the phone up. They aren't "actually preloaded," though. And you can just remove them. The phone feels more like a Samsung ecosystem phone than a Google Android ecosystem phone (and that, I like, because I like having non-Google stock apps for hosting 3rd party service data (and personal data). If Google Assistant doesn't work in your country, then try another option. US support is always going to be better, because Google, Microsoft, and Apple are US companies. I'm pretty sure Xiaomi's China support is pretty amazing, as is Samsung's support in the Korean market for things like Bixby. EU is kinda hostile these days, anyways... So I don't blame them for prioritizing perfecting the US market support over improving the EU market support; frankly. I think Google is better off taking some of that focus and diverting it to emerging markets, personally.
  • "So, even if they make them uninstallable, you likely won't be able to use a lot of apps on Android without the core Google Services installed." That's a user's problem. However, the Google Play Services is a separate installation from Google's apps and services. You can keep Google Play Services installed and not have a single Google app on your phone other than the Play Store. "All Google Play Apps except Play Store and about 6 others" And those 6 others must be made uninstallable as well. I shouldn't be forced to have Chrome installed if I used another browser, I shouldn't be forced to have Maps installed if I prefer another service, I shouldn't be forced to have YouTube, Gmail or any other Google app installed.
    The point here is very simple: I'm not buying a Google phone. Therefore, I shouldn't be forced to have Google's bloatware installed by force on my device, just because they made the OEM do it.
    If Google is confident on the quality of their services (which it seems they aren't), they shouldn't fear competition. Google Assistant isn't available (or rather, it's nowhere near the same experience) in most countries around the World as it is in the US. "US support is always going to be better, because Google, Microsoft, and Apple are US companies." Which is understandable. And yet another reason why those companies MUST be forced to free European customers to get rid of everything they want. Since their major concern is the US market, then non-Americans should be free to go look for other services. We have plenty of European services to replace American ones. Take Maps for example. We should be able to completely get rid of Google Maps and replace it with HERE Maps. "EU is kinda hostile these days, anyways... So I don't blame them for prioritizing perfecting the US market support over improving the EU market support; frankly." European hostility only grows when companies keep treating Europe like second class. Take Xbox for example. Microsoft has always had a "US-First, US-Only" mentality. Sony doesn't. As a result, the Xbox is completely irrelevant in Europe and PlayStation dominates all European markets.
    The more American companies target the US, the more we will turn on them.
    Is that good business for them? I doubt it. The average European has way more money than the average American. We don't rely on carriers, credits or anything alike to pay for our stuff. We are more likely to spend more money on things as well.
    Emerging markets - specially those where they want the best for the cheapest, like India - are terrible for business. They offer companies no growth margins and no profits. But if American companies think they are better served by the American market or third world countries markets, then sure, focus on them. But at least have the courage to say it plainly and we will give our money to someone else. As for the EU "hostility", it's not hostility. The European market has rules. It's not the Wild Wild West as the American market. If you break European rules, it doesn't matter if you're an American, African or Asian company. You WILL be punished for it. Microsoft was, Apple was and Google is being.
  • It's so what you are saying on the past that since Google focuses offering great service for the US market, they must allow us who are of no interest to them to go find better services for ourselves.
  • At the end of the day Google is a clueless incompetent company.
  • Excellent piece.
  • I for one am very disappointed in the direction Google is going. Actually, more like directions, as one day they are going this way, then that way. For the first time I will not be buying a Nexus/Pixel phone, as I feel they have completely went too far with overpriced products that make no sense on Android. Motorola is where it is at for low range, One Plus for mid range, and I think Samsung is where to be for flagship. If you want to be in a complete ecosystem, I think Apple is the way to go, not Google. Apple may not be the innovating company it once was, but at least they know who they are. I don't think Google knows what they want to do other than "in the moment".
  • Agreed on all points. They certainly do focus on the "in the moment", but it might not necessarily end up poorly for the community. While they are promoting and then dropping new technology, they are also not afraid to attempt something and fail at it. And they don't hold on to their failures and try to keep them alive. They learn from what is successful and move their resources over to something else. That something else is likely something that we all know and love today and wouldn't have enjoyed if they held on to these unsuccessful features.
  • Good article. Absolutely. I don't want to take away from that. But I want to comment on the picture up top. Russell! Jesus Christ! Good job! I'll have to revise the mental picture I have of you when listening to the podcast from now on.
  • Yah, I thought they used a stock photo of someone else, then I thought "hey, way to go Russell"! I don't know about the Jesus reference though, don't think he wore glasses . . 😉
  • What I find even more worrying is that not only is Google abandoning stuff, some of the stuff it's NOT abandoning is staying or getting bad:
    - I switched away from Maps because it got buggy about public transport. Here We Go is reliable, and has a better UI.
    - Firefox has add-ons on Mobile. Goodbye, Chrome, and on the Desktop too because Sync is handy.
    - Outlook/Android had new stuff 1-2 years ago that gMail is only now getting. Too late !
    - The new News or whatever has no dark mode, one measly white ugly unpractical widget, weak Weather. I'm in the market for something better, though RSS is by far my preferred way to get news. In the end, aside from Photo and basic stuff I stick with out of laziness (Drive, Docs) Google is losing usage, and respect, from me rather fast.
  • Guess it's not just Microsoft abandoning things. Google is pulling out too!
  • News has a dark mode now but I totally agree with you that RSS is better for how I also manage my news
  • How did you get dark mode? I don't see it.
  • Yes, please tell us how to get dark mode on News.
  • A few days ago, I got the Google News 5.5.0 update, and there's a Dark theme option listed in the app's Settings.
  • Looking forward to it very much. I still don't have the option. The white is bloody obnoxious.
  • The Maps team think Maps is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate (to paraphrase Douglas Adams). And when you look at correcting Maps, you'll frequently find that it's not capable of coping with the complexities of reality, preferring to insist that everything has to match its frequently very limited model. For example, last time I looked, it didn't cope with businesses having different opening times at different times of year -- which makes it useless for visiting tourist sites. It can't cope with the concept that a road might not have a name, and insists on putting the wrong name on the map -- which is the name of a nearby road. And don't mention the time I reported a road that was closed for two months, complete with a link to the official announcement on the council website. Six weeks later: "We think our version is more accurate". Why do they bother?
  • I'm going to keep on using my pixel 2 XL until next badge of iPhones ( September 2019) and I'm moving away , I don't think any of the current Google products lineups will see 2025 , moving away to another company with a unique vision (give me more of your money and we'll handle the rest #Apple)
  • Great article! I find Google hard to figure out. I use the Pixel OG with Project Fi and if I didn't actively read up on AC I would think that Google and Hangouts rocks! The way that both my hangout messages and text messages all come from one app, they way I can pick up those conversations/texts on my iPad, desktop or anywhere I'm logged into google is amazing! If I didn't have this integration, it would be difficult for my wife and I to communicate. Last night I was watching Netflix on the iPad when she called. My phone was in the other room, but the iPad allowed me to answer the call seamlessly and then go right back to Netflix was incredible. Why can't everyone have this functionality?
  • I agree with you. And with the things Google is changing about Android and the hardware decisions they are making (notch, no headphone jack) I'm so close to switching to an iPhone. I'm currently using a Pixel 2 so it would be a year or two away. I think the last straw for me was how they changed the notification area even if you have a phone without a notch. I absolutely hate the clock on the left and the cut off notifications. And one of the biggest things that bothers me about that is they are just copying Apple. My disappointment in Google isn't so much the apps but the UI and hardware decisions they are making in Android itself.
    The parts of Google I use are on iOS and a lot of the time are updated with new features there first.
  • I really like this article. I also feel like I convinced a lot of family to use Google products. To me, it just feels like there's a scale from Stability to Innovation. Google is just trying too much to be innovative and the products we quickly grow to depend on are suddenly taken away. They're trying to reinvent the wheel. I don't want to keep wasting my time learning new products to do the things I could once do without much thought or effort. You need a google search to find out how to use their new replacement products. Why can't they just add new features to existing products? Everything has to be a new product with a new name. I don't care much for Apple or Microsoft, but I can see the appeal. They just seem much more stable.
  • Very well said. Why do we need a "YouTube Music" replacing Google Play Music? We already have Google Play Music. Doesn't make any sense.
  • Im not happy with Google's politics. Don't use the company to get Liberals voting for their candudate of choice. Stay out of politics. I'm close to changing to an Apple phone (can't bring myself to 'i' anything.). It would suck but Google is making me do it.
  • You do realize that Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, is a Democrat, right? 🙄
  • It's one thing when the CEO is of a certain party. It's another when they use their technology to promote the agenda of their party. Having said that, I haven't felt threatened at all with Google nor Apple in regards to politics. The only platform I was not happy with in what was happening was Facebook, and so I deleted that trash back in August 2017 and haven't looked back.
  • I can respect the opinion, but respectfully disagree. Things change, technology moves forward. Google+ is a dead platform for all practical purposes and probably should've been retired years ago. No real reason to continue dedicating resources to maintain and service the platform. Google is a different company than it was 10 years ago. They're just changing with the times and preparing for the future.
  • It's not you. It's Google.
  • It's not you. It's Google.
  • I definitely agree with the author. I was a die-hard Google fan. But the loss of Google Reader, the impending shutter of Inbox, the failure of G+, and complete chaos of messaging services under the Google brand has left me in a bit of limbo. I used to argue vehemently against Apple's walled garden and while Google still offers a more open experience, it still needs to include a minimal set of required services with a consistent and compelling experience. For these reasons, I now find myself (in part) considering whether to upgrade to a Pixel 3 or iPhone XR.
  • You can really tell OP is the kind of person who actually liked Google +... >Google Photos automatically pings my parents when I've backed up photos of their grandkids This is just ****** up. You legit want Google to recognize your kids and notify people about pictures of them?
  • Love this article! Agree with almost all of it.
  • Out with the old - in with the new... Say hello to Google's Assistant, Samsung's Bixby and Apple's Siri. Then have an Assistant to integrate with all of them... Now we are innovating... make it across language barriers... - that's even better - I believe Google's working on it.
  • And a couple of years since the Google Assistant has been out, and it's yet to arrive in a number of countries. That might be one of the reasons their communication services can't compete, they are not available.
  • "[...] I still think Google is the best company to handle the challenges associated with unifying communication across the world, [...]"
    In my opinion, this is a sad thing to read. I mean, we should vouch for *standards*, and tools built over standards. The best way to communicate today are still phone, SMS and emails, because they are universal. They are not controlled by one organization for its own walled-garden. It does not matter which phone services provider one is subscribing to, anyone with a phone can call him. It does not matter which email services provider one is subscribing to, anyone with an email address can reach him. And best of all: changing provider does not force one to have its entire community moving with him.
  • Amen
  • "And I'm probably not going to get over it."
    Nah you will.. and already have
  • Could it be that they are figuring out how to better serve us? I don't use assistant (well, I search like the "OK Google" stuff using it.) that often, other than asking for directions, or for timers when grilling... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
    But, the call screening seems really cool. I like the idea of the Pixel 3 as my "next".
  • NEVER TRUST GOOGLE IDIOTS! I will NEVER use any new Google app, they are just evil naazi censors full of incompetent "designers" in charge, not engineers :)
  • ...deleted 'cause commenting wrong arcticle...