Google, stop flashing the cash and get back to basics

Why Google needs to stop buying everything and focus more on its 20% time
The new Google is rather scary

There will be backslapping all round in Mountain View this week as Google's buyout of Nest has been approved.

But the purchase is one of many that suggests Google has more money than sense: according to Bloomberg, Google made a total of 127 deals in the last three years, beating Intel and doubling its own tally from the three previous years.

While much of this can be put down to corporate cock-blocking*, Google buying companies and bringing in the top management for the juciest Google jobs is a worrying trend.

This is exactly what happened with Nest - Tony Fadell and his team are set to become Google's core hardware group. There's nothing wrong with Fadell and co, but what about nurturing talent from the inside?

20% time

Google used to be great at this, letting its employees focus on new and brilliant innovations in their famed 20% time, but even that's on its way out.

20% time is for trying out the things that may not be core to Google at the moment but would enhance the company in some clear way but new rules imposed back in August dampened the fun.

Innovation was key to Google Labs too, which Google shut down in 2011 as Google decided to put "more wood behind fewer arrows".

This meant that things that are genuinely useful such as Google Reader disappeared, while Andy Rubin – who was formerly the brains behind Android – is allowed to tinker away creating an army of robots.

What fewer arrows means is fewer bullseyes are hit in-house, and the creation of new arrows - innovations - is now being outsourced. It's a real shame. Why bother chipping away at an idea when Google is just going to buy the next big thing in anyway?

If its buying rampage continues at this pace then the original Google way of thinking will inevitably dilute until there isn't enough electric Google Aid to go around. As the company gets more and more bloated from eating up too many tech startups the idea that good ideas come from within is only going to disintegrate further.

Soft focus

It's also clear that the spending spree has changed Google from a search and mobile giant into a sprawling multi-headed monster that has no clear steer.

Robots, thermostats, AI, the buying and selling of Motorola... Google is pushing technology boundaries (well, buying boundary pushers) but there isn't always rhyme or reason in its purchases.

Google's startup splurge reminds me of a kid given infinite money to spend at a toy shop. The shiniest, craziest things are snapped up with disregard of what they actually do and then discarded when they become boring.

The only real win out of the 'robot' Rubin situation, who oversaw Android's huge explosion in the mobile market, is that Sundar Pichai was his replacement.

Pichai's promotion shows that Google isn't adverse to celebrating those in the company that championed boring things like search, Chrome and toolbars. You know, the clever apps and services that actually made Google what it is - but there isn't enough of this.

Asset stripping

While Google may well have acquired a number of patents with its purchase of Motorola, this buying of companies stripping them of their assets and selling them on is not what Google should be doing, instead it should focus internally and think back to when Google was cool again.

It is a strange predicament that Google has found itself in. Here is a company pumping money into robots and wearables, balloons that deliver the internet and even elevators that head into space.

But its continued pummelling of privacy with Google+ and lack of love for the seemingly lesser services is leaving its users with a nasty taste in their mouths.

Going from a company that used to empower and encourage employees to come up with something new to a corporate juggernaut flashing its cash anytime anything vaguely interesting comes along – 127 deals in three years equates to around 3.5 a month – is not a good thing.

If Google closed the wallet for a second and put more of a focus on its much-celebrated 20% time then maybe the Google of old can return. And if it really wants to invest, it should invest in making the products it has even better.

Then - and only then - should it go and play with its robots.

*(thanks to News Editor Kate Solomon for that great phrase)

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.