05/17/2011 08:46 am ET Updated Jul 17, 2011

Google Becoming All Things to All People

After attending the Google I/O developers conference in San Francisco last week, I'm starting to feel as if the company is trying to become all things to all people.

With its Android phones and tablets, Google is competing with Apple. With its Chromebook laptops, it's competing with Microsoft. Google Voice is competing against Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and now Microsoft, which just acquired Skype.

Google Maps has practically put traditional map makers out of business, and now that it's on smartphones, it's having an impact on the sale aftermarket and factory-installed navigation devices. Google TV is trying to compete with set-top box makers. Google has also disrupted the advertising business and, if it has its way, Microsoft Office and what else is left of the desktop software business will be eclipsed by Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Gmail and other Google Web apps.

Come to think of it, Google is even competing with GM, Ford and Chrysler now that it's working on driverless cars.

Google has justified all of these projects as fitting its corporate mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

I suppose you could make a case for how each of these product categories fits into that rubric. Phones, tablets and laptops are the hardware that facilitates accessibility of information. Google Maps certainly fits, and Google Voice sort of qualifies because it lets you record and store incoming phone calls, transcribe and store voice mail, and makes text messages accessible via the Web. And driverless cars obviously qualifies because once we no longer have to concentrate on the road, we can be Web surfing while we're driving.

As if all that weren't enough, Google last week expanded its empire even further by announcing a music storage service and adding video rental to its Android marketplace.

I'm not complaining. As a consumer, I love having choices, and as long as Google isn't driving competitors out of business, it's adding to our choices. And in some cases, Google products work well as companions to competing products. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I installed an after-market navigation system in my car, but I still find myself using Google Maps on my cellphone when I want to quickly search for something like "the nearest sushi bar" or a particular restaurant or business. Not only is its cloud-based database a lot more up-to-date than the one in my navigation system's firmware, but it's also much easier to search and its voice-recognition system works almost every time.

I'm very happy to see Google compete with Apple. I love the iPhone and the iPad, but it's important not to let one company dominate the marketplace. Apple would continue to innovate even if it didn't have Google at its back because it makes a lot of its money by selling annual upgrades to existing customers. But now that it has to worry about losing customers to Google, Apple is under pressure not only to keep innovating, but also to keep its prices in check.

Speaking of competing with Apple, last week Google handed out pre-release versions of Samsung's Tab 10.1 to all attendees of its conference, including press covering the event. The new tablet is slightly thinner and lighter than the iPad 2 and, so far, is performing admirably. That doesn't mean it's better than the iPad 2, which is the current gold standard for tablets, but it's a serious competitor. Google announced that there are now 200,000 apps in the Android marketplace. That's still a lot fewer than are available for Apple phones and tablets, but it's a very respectable number, and it will only get higher.

One area where Google will probably never catch up with Apple is with cases and other accessories that attach to the devices. Google tablets don't even have a consistent power and data connector. The Samsung 10.1's power cord has a standard USB connector that goes into the power brick but what appears to be a proprietary connector that plugs into the tablet. The Acer Iconia Tab that I wrote about last week has yet a different power connector. What's ironic about this is that Google CEO Larry Page made a big pitch at his 2006 CEO keynote for getting the consumer electronics industry to standardize on power supplies.

I could write even more about Google products, including some categories I don't have room to mention. If you want to learn more, you can do a search for "list of Google products." And, yes, "there's an app for that" -- it's called

This post also appeared in the San Jose Mercury News For more from Larry visit