Google Apps: Has Adoption Slowed?

Google renewed its pitch to embrace cloud IT at its Atmosphere roadshow. But its count of companies going Google Apps doesn't add up.
Google's cloud services roadshow, known by the appropriately airy moniker "Atmosphere," opened in a San Francisco event facility on Thursday, to spread the word about how companies are ditching their on-premises servers for IT services hosted with Google.

In a phone briefing prior to the event, Amit Singh, VP of Google's enterprise group, said corporate adoption of Google Apps continues to grow. More than 4 million companies rely on Google Apps and 5000 more are adopting the service every day, he said.

There's something odd about Google's math, however: The number of companies that have adopted Google Apps should have reached 5 million by now. Google first announced it had 3 million corporate customers in September 2010. A year later, the company announced 4 million businesses had adopted Google Apps.

[ Read The Future of Google Docs. ]

The daily rate of adoption from September 2010 to September 2011 comes to almost 2800 companies per day. But if Google was adding 5000 companies per day since last September--that's about 270 days--we'd be at 5,350,000 companies using Google Apps or thereabouts.

Asked about this, a Google spokesperson said he wouldn't read too much into it, pointing to significant recent customer wins such as Roche and the Department of the Interior. Perhaps not, but if Google is going to count customers, an up-to-date figure would prevent anyone from getting the idea that adoption might be slowing.

Why might this happen? Well, Microsoft did launch its answer to Google Apps, Office 365, last June. But that's pure speculation.

A brief conversation with a Google Docs product manager at the Atmosphere event yielded one interesting tidbit: Google is still planning to implement offline editing in Google Docs--promised for more than a year--but this capability will only be available through Google's Chrome browser, at least initially.

This is consistent with offline reading access--not editing--for Gmail, Calendar, and Docs which was made available exclusively for Chrome last August. The Chrome requirement is because offline editing was implemented with certain technologies like background pages and local storage customization that are only available in Chrome.

Once offline editing becomes available, pretty much any business user accessing Google Apps from a mobile device--it's on the road that network connectivity is most likely to be unreliable or unavailable--will have a strong incentive to adopt Chrome.

The Atmosphere presentation opened with author Don Tapscott pitching the idea that collaboration, openness, and sharing represent "a new operating system for the enterprise." Collaboration, openness, and sharing also happen to summarize the value proposition of Google Apps.

Ben Fried, VP and CIO of Google, later echoed that sentiment. "Most of what people want to do in the enterprise is collaborare and work together," he said.

Singh followed Tapscott and amplified the Tapscott's pitch with a paean to the wonders of the way we live now. "With just one click, you can search the world's information," he said. "You can order virtually anything in the world and it ships to your house overnight."

As Singh and Google see it, the migration of consumer Internet technology into the enterprise is unavoidable. "Consumer technology is leading the way to a new paradigm," he said.

Singh highlighted examples of the consumer technologies that Google is now offering to enterprises and of companies like Virgin America and Delta Hotels that have bought into Google's cloud services.

Such endorsement of the cloud will sound pretty familiar to anyone who has attended tech industry trade shows during the past five years. The one Atmosphere attendee I asked about this confirmed that the message wasn't exactly new, but stressed that the value of the gathering arises from the socialization with other business executives.

Maybe there's something to this collaboration, openness, and sharing thing after all.