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.
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.