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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 Worst Android Apps
10 Worst Android Apps
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9. Google Music
Good 95%; Bad 5%

Google Music isn't likely to make the music business what it once was. Nor will it make being a musical artist much easier, though many self-managing musicians will certainly appreciate being able to sell their songs through the Android Market. But if nothing else, Google has done consumers a service by offering an alternative to Apple's iTunes Match model, which requires $25 annually to listen to and store songs that the user has (or should have) purchased already.

Google Music may not immediately challenge Apple's iTunes or Amazon's MP3 Store, but it's good to see another competitor take to the field.

10. Android 4.0
Good 90%; Bad 10%

Google's long-awaited unification of its tablet and mobile phone versions of Android arrived with version 4.0, known as Ice Cream Sandwich. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the first mobile phone sporting Android 4.0, looks like it presents a credible challenge to Apple's iPhone 4S.

[ Compare new mobile operating systems from Google and Apple. Android 4.0 Vs. iOS 5 Faceoff. ]

Android 4.0 may be an answer to Apple's iOS 5, but it's an incomplete answer: The mobile browser in Android 4.0 doesn't yet support a number of important HTML5 APIs, like Web Sockets, Drag and Drop, and HTML5 forms--these would be particularly useful with their built-in input checking capabilities. Google, as one of the loudest advocates of HTML5, really ought to be fielding a mobile browser that bests Safari on iOS in a varied set of tests. But there's no mobile version of Chrome, yet.

More broadly, the problem with Android 4.0 is that it's not immediately available to a significant portion of the Android customer base (at least among those disinclined to use a command line). If you want Android 4.0 right away, you'll probably need to buy a phone that has it installed already, the Galaxy Nexus. As to when the mobile carriers will make Android 4.0 available, well, that's up to the mobile carriers, rather than their customers. A three-month wait to get Android 4.0 isn't really ideal in a market segment with six-month product cycles and a preference for instant gratification.

11. Google Fortifies The Web
Good 95%; Bad 5%

Google has continued to support open Web technologies, through projects like Android, Chromium, the WebM video codec, the WebP image compression format, the Dart programming language, and NativeClient, and through its introduction of tools like Swiffy, QualityBots, its Page Speed Service, and PlayN. While Google helps itself as it advances Web technologies, it is also helping its competitors--witness how Amazon doesn't allow users of the Android-based Kindle Fire to install apps from Google's Android Market. And for such selflessness, Google deserves some recognition.

12. Google's "Monopoly" Defense
Good 65%; Bad 35%

In its 13-year existence, Google has become enormously powerful and has made many enemies in the process. Some of those enemies, most notably Microsoft, have argued that Google's search advertising business violates antitrust laws and that Google's search system treats Google products and services better than third-party offerings. The charges have enough substance that both U.S. and EU regulators have started looking into them.

Google has been relatively effective in defending itself and the chance of any harsh regulatory remedy for the company's success looks remote.

Yet, if Google ultimately escapes antitrust penalties akin to those that confronted Microsoft around the time of Google's birth, we will still be left with a playing field that current laws just don't seem able to level. Companies that own platforms have powers that give them competitive advantages.

Perhaps there's nothing to be done--try to imagine a world without Google, where, say, Microsoft ran the world's most popular search engine, or a world without a dominant search player, and that scenario doesn't look like an improvement. But questions about competitive fairness should keep being asked, even if sensible remedies aren't immediately obvious.

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