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11/29/2011
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Google's Daring Dozen: 12 Big Bets In 2011

Google has played a smart game in 2011, especially with Android, but it hasn't been perfect. We evaluate its main moves in the past year.

10 Epic Android Apps
10 Epic Android Apps
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Google has done well in 2011, at least in terms of revenue and the popularity of Android, Chrome, and various other products and services.

But it hasn't been a perfect game. Looking over the company's major initiatives and projects this year, there are some bold moves, some stumbles, and many intriguing developments.

1. Google's Pending Acquisition Of Motorola Mobility
Good: 55%; Bad: 45%

In the best of all possible worlds, this deal would be unnecessary. But we're not living in that world. Google had to do something to address the growing fear among its Android partners and potential Android customers that its mobile operating system would crumble under patent litigation. Offering $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility, with its sizable patent portfolio, and taking related steps like challenging the validity of Lodsys' patents and selling patents to HTC, staunched the bleeding of confidence.

[ Microsoft has made a lucrative business out of mobile licensing deals. Learn more: Microsoft Gets Android Phone Makers To Pay Up. ]

But owning Motorola Mobility and its intellectual property may not change the situation: Microsoft will generate huge sums from the various Android patent license agreements it has forced upon makers of Android hardware. Oracle's Android lawsuit remains. And Apple's continued success will only accelerate efforts to copy its hermetic business strategy. With Microsoft opening retail outlets and pursuing its own app store model, not to mention Amazon's launch of a Google-free flavor of Android, Google appears to have no choice but to make sure there's hardware being sold that will be able to accommodate its software--Motorola can help with that. The major technology platforms are building toward a vertically integrated future, despite all the talk of the wonders of the open Web.

2. The Chromebook
Good: 15%; Bad: 85%.

Google's Chromebook is an ambitious project that has been left in the dust by a fast-moving hardware market and hobbled by its limited value proposition. The Chromebook isn't a complete failure, even if Google won't say how many it has sold and Samsung cut its Chromebook price significantly. Chromebooks are actually respectable, though underpowered, machines, if you're in the market for a browser in notebook form factor.

The problem is that this is a niche market, at least at the moment. Chromebooks are useful for schools because they require far less maintenance and support that the typical Windows PC and because the pricing model is dirt cheap. But Google envisioned greater things for its Chromebook than life as a device you give to kids and employees because you don't trust them with the power to actually maintain local files and run local applications.

The Chromebook was born too bulky and too dependent on wireless connectivity for business travelers (though they're fine in hotels with Wi-Fi). The notebook market is becoming less and less concerned with the traditional notebook form factor--a slab large enough to contain a DVD drive and other computing hardware--thanks largely to the success of the slim MacBook Air. When CES rolls around in January, the action will be around ultrabooks, which is to say copies of the MacBook Air. Chromebooks needed a hardware refresh the moment they hit the market in June.

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