Google’s US-centricity is starting to grate


opinion Compared with most other global technology giants, Google normally takes the high road when it comes to Australia.

There are dozens — perhaps hundreds — of multinational technology companies whose managing directors will admit, if you corner them at the right time, that their Australian operation is little more than a shopfront for their global manufacturing and research and development organisations; a sales and marketing office that is designed to simply sell their products and services to Australians.

Google has always been different.

From as early as 2006, when the company opened its first major office in Darling Harbour, Sydney, the company has talked up the fact that it doesn’t just sell things to Australians.

Google employs Australians to actually develop sections of its technology in Australia through its regional engineering centre located in Sydney. Google Maps is the most obvious example, but the now-defunct Google Wave product was another. And if I remember correctly, other flagship products like Gmail have also been worked on by Australian hands.

This has traditionally given Google somewhat of a free pass when it comes to the search giant’s own implementation of the technology lag factor which Australia suffers at the hands of most other vendors.

The latest Google product a bit late in coming Down Under after it’s US launch? Don’t worry, Australian technologists would say. We’ll probably get it at the same time as Europe. After all, Alan Noble, Lars Rasmussen (before he left for Facebook) and the other Sydney Googlers won’t suffer the delay for long. They’ll agitate internally for change.

Recently, however, this lag factor has started to ramp up out of control. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Google no longer considers Australia significant as an early market for its products.

The events of this week demonstrate this fact ably.

Over the past several days, Google has held wall to wall product launches in the United States as it ramps up its plans to dominate the mobile phone space (through its Android platform), the eBook space (Google eBooks) and the laptop space (through its Chrome operating system).

US, and in some cases, UK residents, immediately won access to a slew of innovative new products from Google.

Those in the US and the UK will be able to buy the search giant’s new Nexus S phone from Samsung before Christmas, running the Android 2.3 ‘Gingerbread’ platform. US residents are also able to purchase eBooks from a range of companies. And they are able to register for a pilot program to receive a Google notebook running Chrome OS.

What did Google have to say when I asked the company’s Australian representatives about the first two launches? Simply that they had nothing to announce at this stage for the Australian market. And the Chrome trial makes it clear it is currently US-only, so I didn’t even bother to ask for the same comment a third time.

Tellingly, the company’s Australian Twitter account carefully avoided linking to its global Nexus S announcement yesterday — instead notifying the nation that Android developers could now download the Gingerbread development kit. Pity there’s no phone to trial it on.

And these are just the latest examples of a long-term trend. You need only look at the way that Google has treated Australian Android developers to realise that fact.

Now what bothers me about Google’s current approach is not that it focuses on launching products in its home market first; after all, every technology company does. What bothers me is the company’s attitude towards Australia in general.

A company which honestly cared about Australia would not simply declare it had nothing to announce locally, when confronted by hot products being launched in the US. It would, as Samsung did yesterday, assure Australians that it was “excited” about launching new products in Australia, and that it was working to bring the nation up to parity with the US market.

There is nothing to stop Google Australia from putting a two minute video up on YouTube of one of its prized Sydney engineers apologising for the lack of Australian support for a product launch and pledging to try and rectify the issue ASAP.

This is the sort of responsiveness and flexibility that Google used to be famous for. Even if the products still came to Australia six months late, or not at all, at least we would know the company didn’t have a heart of stone.

And after all, it’s not as if every company simply ignores Australia when it comes to global product launch time.

Many people — myself included — accuse Apple of being the most arrogant technology company on the face of the planet. It refuses 99.9 percent of all press enquiries with a “no comment”, gives no visibility on future product roadmaps, hoards cash like a miser and sues those who infringe its intellectual property rights in the slightest.

And yet, every single time the company launches a new product (usually at 4AM, Sydney time), Apple is at pains to inform Australian consumers when and for how much that product will be available in Australia.

In short, if Google Australia wants to take the high road, it has to earn it and show Australia that its local presence is not just a sales and marketing office.

One final point: I was particularly offended by the lack of Australian support in the Google eBook announcement. Bringing book publishers into the Google eBook ecosystem is purely a matter of commercial negotiation; not a technical concern. It would have cost Google next to nothing to employ an Australian eBook manager to work to bring Australian publishers on board with the project, at the same time as it was doing so in the US market.

God knows Australian publishers are ready for this; as the recent successful launches of the Borders/Kobo and Apple iBooks platforms have shown.

The lack of Australian support for Google’s eBooks platform shows Google — with its tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue — didn’t even try.

Image credit: Robert Scoble, Creative Commons


  1. Yeah, it’s a shame that eBooks isn’t available here yet – and I’m sure plenty of people are waiting for Google Voice to make its way outside of the US. Didn’t Apple also launch their ebook offering in Aus later than in the US though? As you say, even just outlining a date might help mitigate the frustration somewhat.

    Although, you know, there are always tons of cool phones, laptops and other gadgets that launch in Japan/Korea way ahead of here, the US and Europe so the argument works both ways!

    • I think the biggest issue is publishing rights.

      The same books are often distributed by different publishers in different countries, so it takes time to do all the legal stuff, and they’ll always do the US first.

      • True, the issue is publishing rights. But I don’t see why — if companies like Apple and Borders/Kobo are doing it — Google can’t negotiate with Australian publishers as well. It certainly has the scale to put a couple of bums on seats in Australia to do that.

    • Hmm perhaps (re Japan/Korea) — but I have to say, much of the software innovation these days is coming from the US rather than from Asia, and where there is hardware innovation coming from Asia (HTC/Samsing etc), they seem to be very quick to bring the new hotness to Australia.

  2. I live in Sydney and enjoyed reading the article and mostly agree..

    however let’s be fair to Google here, compare the population/GDP of Australia compared to US or Europe – they target the large consumers first

    • I’ve done a fair bit of thinking about this exact issue. Firstly, I agree there is no doubt launching in the US first is a smart move for Google. With 310 million people, most English speakers and not requiring any translation of products, it’s a no brainer.

      So what about Europe and Australia?

      Firstly, we should note that when we say “Europe”, we’re realistically talking about the UK here, as for any other market in Europe, Google would have to spend quite a bit of effort translating its products from English into the local native language. More effort, it has to be said, than it would take to launch the products in Australia.

      Secondly, the UK is not that much larger than Australia — 62 million versus 22 million. And Australia is known for having a very early technology adopting population, more so than in the UK, judging by my conversations with UK tech journos over the years.

      So not only is Australia one of the largest English-speaking nations in the globe, it’s an early technology adopter specialist market, and we even have a cultural match with the US and a large Google presence in Australia.

      All of this makes Australia a natural option for Google to launch products in after the US — some would say, an even more natural option than the UK.

      • hi Renai

        I was thinking on a world scale, Australia is less than 0.5% of the world population (around 50th) – but what you say is true, what should matter isn’t the population but the technological advancement of the country

        Couldn’t find any information about the availability of these new Google products in China or India, perhaps Google is testing the waters in US first

      • With an English speaking population that is 30% larger than Australia’s, the world’s largest trading partnership, tight integration of networks and nearly identical cultures, Canada would be the most logical option after the US. Google Voice isn’t even available in the Canadian market yet. A far away island of 20 million people falls way down the list of priorities.

  3. For the books, i give google a free pasd because even apple and kobo had issues negotiating access to sell books in Aus.

    No excuse on the phones. We are an english speaking country with an open mobile network and tech savy population. We use GSM, high network penitration and a known love for tech toys, and have a non depressed economy. While we are a small nation, we are perfect test market for most technology (the only nation that would come close would be Eire, who have issues at the moment)

  4. Here in Canada, we’re right next door to the States and we get the same treatment. How do you think *we* feel? Our best buddies over the line there always get the shiny toys first.

    Ah well, as long as they keep their politics on their side of the line, I guess I can wait a few more months for Google Voice.

    Actually, now that I think of it – consumer and privacy protection laws in the states are pretty weak. Maybe their strategy is to make the world drool over what the Americans have, so that the rest of us will lobby our politicians to weaken legislation that would have otherwise protected us. Voila, our population becomes Google lobbyists, all so we can have shiny things too.

    Is this a tin-foil hat on my head? Interesting.

  5. These delays are only surprising to technophiles who have deluded themselves into thinking that the world of hardware/software/internet is without legal borders.

  6. I’m a little confused about this article. You say you want Google to more than just have a sales and marketing office. But you also say you’ll be placated with an announcement that the Australian release will be 6 months after the US release.

    Which sounds like you just want more marketing.

    • I guess what I ultimately want is more honesty from Google. If the company isn’t able to bring a product or service to Australia, then it should say so up front, and the reasons why. If it is planning to bring it eventually, it should say that too, so we know what to expect. But saying the company has “nothing to announce” is just a tease ;)

  7. No surprise here. Just look at how the Google Nexus One was released in Oz…. oh wait, it was not. It was announced about a year ago. All the geeks here got excited and waited for the release in Australia. The more impatient ones imported them from the UK or US, effectively losing the warranty. When asked, Google had the same non-committal reply: nothing to announce yet.

    In the US, Google was flogging the phone directly from Google making the Americans stand there with their jaw dropped to the floor: “Buying a phone from anyone else than a carrier???? and paying for it????? it is unheard of”. In Australia people actually BUY phones without contract, the concept is not new to us, it would have been a great success here.

    In about September, Vodafone sold a few thousand of them. Around the same time Google stopped selling the Nexus One, acknowledging that it did not sell that well.

    I can see a similar story shaping up here. My reaction is: fsck you Google. I will not recommend any google/android stuff to anyone any more. Iphone, here we come. Apple at least acknowledges our existence.

  8. Well, as Google winds down its interests in Australia Apple increases them.

    More than ever this year Australia has been involved in Apple’s first tier international launches. Either Google doesn’t think this town is big enough for the two of them, or they’re becoming lax as Apple gains ground.

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