What’s Holding Back Google’s iPhone-Killer?


Google is in the smartphone business, obviously. But are they in it to win it, or just f**king around?

Sometimes I wonder.

Google is obviously a visionary company with incredible technology and the capacity to build some of the greatest stuff out there.

In fact, Google already has created all the elements of a monster, iPhone-killing super-phone. Yet some invisible, internal company flaw seems to be stopping the company from putting all those elements into an actual phone.

The iPhone-killing elements are scattered all over different phones that Google sells, and some of the elements aren’t in the phones at all.

As a result, Google’s fans are faced with an artificial choice between this feature or that feature — or just giving up and buying either a non-Google Android phone or an iPhone for a more compelling mobile experience.

What’s stopping Google from integrating all its best stuff into a single phone that would thrill everybody and dominate the market?

Is it Microsoft-style company politics, where internal power struggles among VPs and product managers create a hyperpluralism that paralyzes the company?

I don’t know. But what I do know is that Google could completely transform the market by simply using what it’s already got.

Here are the four actions Google needs to take to use what it’s got to create the ultimate iPhone killer super-phone.

1. Merge the many Google phones and brands into one line.

Right now, Google as a company is selling phones under Nexus, Droid and Moto X brands. Each of these lines have different strong points, which customers are forced to choose between.

Nexus has the best price and very solid overall features, but no “special features.” It’s designed by Google, but manufactured by LG.

The Motorola Droid has a phone with killer battery life (the Maxx gets about two days!) plus Motorola’s X8 low-power contextual goodies and Google Now integration, but it’s only available on one carrier in one country.

The Motorola Moto X has the X8 stuff, plus it’s ergonomically great an can be custom-built in the USA, but it’s available only in North America and has a horrible camera and high price.

All these models and brands and options force a hard choice on buyers, creating choice-paralysis followed by buyer’s remorse.

If Google is serious about beating iPhone, the company needs to end the Motorola, Nexus, Droid and Moto X brand names. Just kill them.

Instead, create two phones (a Moto X-size and a Droid Maxx size) with X8 stuff, killer battery life and a camera at least as good as the iPhone 5S camera.

Call it the Google Phone and the Google Phone Maxx. Make them available in all countries on all major carriers and charge $399 and $499, respectively.

Wait, we’re not done.

2. Add a contextual cards interface to Android

Moving from the iPhone 5 to the Moto X was like moving from iOS X to Windows Vista, from an interface point of view.

The Android interface is just a second-rate version of Apple’s iOS interface. Although Android has widgets and customization options that iOS doesn’t have, the core vanilla Android interface is to most users just Apple’s boring, static interface, but with ugly icons and less-responsive physics.

More importantly (especially to the thesis of this column), Android’s generic interface doesn’t represent Google’s core strengths, which include context awareness and the cards interface. Android also doesn’t reflect Google’s recent overall design sensibility, which is actually quite elegant and beautiful.

Instead of doing a bad version of Apple’s static interface, why doesn’t Google employ its own brilliant interface elements into the Android interface?

A newish beta invitation-only app called Aviate is beating Google at its own game.

Aviate functions as a launcher, replacing what you see when you turn on your Android phone with context-aware elements and a cards interface.

For example, when you first turn on your Android phone running Aviate, it shows you the “morning” view, including the weather, commute information and other things you’re likely to want at that moment. The widgets and default icons change when you’re moving, while at home and work and in other situations. When you go to a coffee shop and turn on your phone, a location widget starts you with information about that location with easy buttons for checking in, learning more about the place and other features.

The presented view is always changing and always learning by paying attention to your situation, and also by which apps you tend to use most.

Swipe to the right and you see a listing of categories, where Aviate has automatically placed your most frequently-used icons (“Social,” “Work,” “Music” and so on). Swipe to the right again, and you get every app categorized alphabetically.

Aviate has been called the “Google Now of launchers.” The only question is: Why isn’t Google doing the Google Now of launchers?

Google needs to either buy and integrate Aviate, or build its own version and make it the standard, default interface for Android — or, at least, the new Google Phone line — an interface that’s highly contextual and cards-aware like Aviate is, but with two differences.

First, Google’s version should integrate contextual signals from across Google’s sites, including Google Search, Google+, Google Maps and Gmail.

And second, Google should plunk its best product right on the main home screen. Specifically:

3. Make Google Now the home screen

Aviate has a cool home screen that’s about 15% time, date and location; 50% widget space; and the rest devoted to ten most frequently used icons.

The widget space is where users can pick any widget, or set of widgets (one by itself works best).

Google should place Google Now right there where the Aviate widgets go.

Google Now is one of Google’s best features, yet it’s always buried. Whenever you want to use Google Now, you have to go hunting for it. Yet the very nature of Google Now’s pre-emptive information approach means it should just be there — especially when you turn on the phone.

4. Make it Google+ centric like Google Glass is

Google’s integration strategy with Google+ makes incredible sense when you use Google Glass every day like I do. Messages, sharing, photos and videos, understanding the relative importance of various people trying to contact you — Google+ provides this vital service to Google Glass users. And it should do the same for the Google Phone.

Google+ centrism is ideal for combining contextual features with social ones. And with Hangouts now or soon to support Google Voice phone calls and SMS text messaging, the whole Google+ system can enable incredibly elegant and fast communication. Just talk, and people get the message. Then you can be interrupted only by the people who are important to you.

Google has every hardware, software and service component it needs to blow iPhone completely out of the water.

But with those features spread all over Google’s other phones and other services, rather than concentrated into one super Google phone line, Google will be missing out on an amazing opportunity to thrill customers and lead the mobile market completely.

Who else wants a real iPhone-killer Google phone?