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7 Reasons Google Needs Its Own Steve Jobs

Tech folklore abounds with examples of Steve Jobs’ monomaniacal focus on the user experience, including this tale on Jobs’ obsession with the Apple calculator widget. Other tech companies, especially Apple archrival Google, could use some of Steve’s legendary attention to detail – as shown in these seven examples where the company’s focus seems to have wandered a bit.

Google is known for its fantastically brilliant engineering talent. Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed the algorithms that made Google the king of the search engines, while Eric Schmidt offered “adult” supervision. But with three hands on the tiller, who is steering the ship?

That’s not an idle question. Even for successful projects, Google too often seems to reward the idea, not the implementation. These seven shortcomings among Google’s products – some monumental, others trivial – reveal a troubling lack of polish, especially compared to Jobs’ legacy at Apple.

Google’s I/O developers conference starts tomorrow, and the company may address some of these problems. Let’s hope so.

No. 1: No “Home” Navigation in Google Navigation

When Google introduced Google Maps Navigation in 2009, most people quickly realized that the days of the standalone GPS device were numbered. Google’s Android OS offered maps, turn-by-turn directions, even traffic – all for free. But Google has inexplicably ignored a central feature of GPS devices: the home location. When setting up a standalone GPS from Garmin or TomTom, the first question you’re asked is to set your home location. Not so with Google Maps. In fact, Google took three years, until May 15, 2012, to implement a home feature on the desktop version of Maps.

The problem? GPS is inherently a mobile application. But the “home” feature hasn’t carried over to Android, Google’s mobile OS. Sure, you can manually enter your home location each time. But you can’t use Google’s voice commands to “navigate to home” and expect to be directed home after a long night out in an unfamiliar city. Even starred “My Places” don’t seem to carry over from the desktop version of Maps to Android.

No. 2: Movies Rented on Google Play Can’t Be Watched on Google TV

Google TV has issues. Many, many issues. But one thing that sets Google TV apart from its streaming set-top siblings – and this is not a good thing, mind you – is that movies rented on Google Play cannot be watched on Google TV. They can be viewed on a tablet or a phone, but not on the beautiful HDTV across the room, powered by Google. That doesn’t mean you can’t rent a movie on Google TV. Of course you can. But – oops! – the only source to do so is Amazon. You know, the site that offers a competing Android app market? Meanwhile, services like Amazon, Vudu and Apple’s own iTunes provide better video rental services on connected TVs.

Google PR was kind enough to tell me in March that the Google TV movie playback problem was being worked on, and was scheduled to be resolved soon. Let’s hope that the Google Play updates rumored for Google I/O include this feature.

No. 3: Deep Google Drive Integration With Chromebooks

The Chromebook, which essentially lives and dies by the Web, has been a work in progress since the start. The Chromebook correctly anticipated the shift to the Web and native applications. But the Chromebook noticeably fails where local content is concerned; the local file manager is rudimentary at best, as is media playback.

Since the Chromebook connects to the Web, you can log in and download a file from Google Drive. But as a Web-centric product, the Chromebook demands integrated cloud storage, one that’s accessible via the operating system itself, rather than the Web interface. Google could try to challenge ultrabooks and the MacBook Air with a fast, compact computing device like the Chromebook. But it still isn’t quite there.

No. 4: Google’s Cloud Confusion

Score one for Microsoft’s SkyDrive. When I access cloud storage, my assumption is that I’m signing on to a Web-based repository of my files. Not so with Google Drive, or even Google+’s online photo repository. Put simply, Google wants to open and edit the document within Google Docs using its own format, even if Microsoft Word is the superior editor.

To be fair, “elroy999” explained Google’s perspective on the issue – at least from a Google Docs perspective – in great detail:

“Personally, upon just clicking a docx file in the browser, I wouldn’t mind a context menu that said: 1) View with Google Office, 2) Convert and edit with Google Office, 3) Download and edit with Word,” elroy999 noted.

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