Highs and lows for Google in 2010

Google's greatest hits and misses, from Android to Buzz


It's been an interesting year for Google.

Not content with dominating search, it's gone after everything from desktop operating systems to your TV - and while some of its ideas have been inspired, it's seen almost as many turkeys as the late Bernard Matthews.

Here are ten reasons we loved Google this year, and ten things that made us go "hmmmm".

HIGH: Android Tablets

They may be off to a shaky start, but once the kinks in products such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab have been ironed out Android tablets are going to annoy Steve Jobs immensely. That can only be a good thing.

LOW: Google TV

We understand the idea, we really do, but anyone who looks at a TV remote control and shouts "Aha! We'll stick a keyboard on it!" doesn't really understand TV very much. It's barely out and Google TV already looks shaky: US broadcasters are blocking Google TV from showing their services.

HIGH: Google Googles

The arrival of Google's visual search system on the iPhone earlier this year was a real eye-opener, no pun intended: it does something enormously clever exceptionally well. Visual search isn't ready for the mainstream just yet but Goggles gives us a peek into the mobile future.

LOW: Google's accountants

It's perfectly legal, but the news that Google's UK operation moves its money through Ireland to avoid tax caused plenty of controversy in 2011. It's a common tactic among high-tech companies, but Google's numbers are particularly big: the Sunday Times reports that Google avoided nearly half a billion pounds in Corporation Tax in 2008 alone.

HIGH: Android phones

Android is a genuine success story, a worthy rival to Apple's iPhone, iPod and iPad ecosystem that delivers an excellent mobile OS across a range of decent devices. The current version, dubbed Froyo, has seen sales of Android handsets soar. If only the mobile phone networks would stop stuffing crapware and unwanted customisations into every handset Android would be pretty much perfect.

LOW: iAds

If Google thought it was going to rake in all the cash from smartphone ads Steve Jobs had an unhappy surprise: iAds, Apple's own advertising platform for iOS devices. In typical Apple style iAds concentrates on the biggest, most profitable bits of the advertising market, leaving the scraps for other firms such as Google to fight over.

HIGH: Google Boutiques

A kind of cross between ASOS.com and an online Grazia, Google's Boutiques.com (it's a beta, inevitably) has attracted positive word of mouth since its launch last month. Unusually good-looking for a Google property, the site hopes to reinvent online shopping. It won't, but once its range expands and it reaches outside the US it could be a nice little earner.

LOW: Google Buzz

Along with the now-defunct Google Wave, Buzz is case study in how not to launch a social network. Google Buzz was automatically rolled out to Gmail users and used your email history to find connections between you and others. Unfortunately many of us send emails to and receive messages from people we can't bloody stand, and Buzz was soon generating headlines for bringing women and abusive exes together without asking first. It still exists, but it's hardly the Facebook killer some thought it would be.

HIGH: Google Translate for Animals

No, it wasn't real - but our first reaction to this April Fool wasn't "Oh god, how unfunny" but "Wow, how did they manage that?" That means one of two things: we hold Google engineers in very high esteem, or your correspondent is a dumbass. The beatboxing Google Translate made us laugh too.

LOW: Google Music

Reports that a Google Music shop/service is ready to launch are about as reliable as Bono's claims that the next U2 album will be brilliant: we'd like to believe but we always end up disappointed. The long-anticipated store looks set to miss its rumoured late-2010 launch, although Billboard reports that when the service finally does turn up it'll offer a cloud-based streaming service, a download shop and social networking features.

HIGH: Chrome

Google's web browser seems to ship a new version every few days - at the time of writing we're on version eleventy-three - and the strategy is paying off: according to StatCounter, its market share jumped from under 5% this time last year to 13-plus-percent now. With more than 8,500 extensions, 1,400 themes and a blazing fast engine powering the whole shooting match, Chrome has become an excellent everyday browser.

LOW: Chrome OS

Were we the only ones to go "huh?" at the Chrome OS launch? Google's desktop operating system is undoubtedly fast and there are obvious benefits for enterprise customers, but we're struggling to see the appeal to consumers like us when the Chrome browser will deliver much the same experience without locking you into a web-only OS. It was supposed to be out by now too, but the shipping date has slid well into 2011.

HIGH: Mobile Google Docs

Google Docs on the iPad is a wonderful thing. The service is now available for most browsers and even smartphones.

LOW: YouTube bullies and Street View scanning

In February, Italian YouTube executives were found guilty of violating privacy laws when the site didn't remove a bullying video quickly enough, and at the time of writing the Street View service has attracted regulators' attention after the Street View cars, ahem, accidentally scanned people's wireless networks.

HIGH: Google Voice

Apple's apparent App Store ban - which lasted for more than a year - meant Google Voice became famous for all the wrong reasons: rather than see it as the App Apple Tried To Ban, it should be seen as Google's Really Amazing Service. The former GrandCentral gives you one number that follows you around from landline to mobile and online, and we're gutted we can't get it over here.

LOW: Facebook

Google's biggest rival isn't Microsoft. It's Facebook. Time spent faffing around on Facebook is time you're not spending on the open Internet, using Gmail or any of Google's other services - and that means you're not seeing Google's ads. Hence November's Google/Facebook fight, with the latter cheekily grabbing data from Google address books without returning the favour and Google going in an almighty huff. Expect more barneys as Facebook's grip on the entire Internet continues to tighten.

HIGH: Instant Previews and Google Instant

It hasn't escaped controversy - lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender users are upset that the Instant's adult filtering also excludes LGBT terms - but Google's instant suggestions are very useful and a little bit spooky. We like the previews too, which make visits to useless sites considerably less likely.

LOW: Net Neutrality

Google has long been a supporter of Net Neutrality, so jaws dropped in August when the firm essentially said "yeah, net neutrality's awesome, but obviously that only applies to wired connections because wireless is, y'know, different" while holding hands with mobile phone company Verizon. As the EFF put it, the net neutrality proposals created by Google and Verizon "included some really terrible ideas".

HIGH: Nexus S

Could this be the world's best smartphone? It's certainly looking pretty good. We can't wait to find out whether it's good enough for us to forget the price tag.

LOW: Eric Schmidt bumping his gums

Whether it's arguing that teenagers should change their names to stop their online history embarrassing them, claiming that Google policy is to "go right up to the creepy line" or saying that "We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about", the Google CEO once again wins our Tech Boss Most Likely To Own A Coat Made Of Human Skin award.

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