Anil Dash wrote an interesting post about Google's public perception and the changes that are slowly turning Google into a regular big corporation.
"This is the point when the difference between their internal conception of the company starts to diverge just a bit too far from the public perception of the company, and even starts to diverge from reality. At this inflection point, the reasons for doing new things at Google start to change."
Anil gives some examples of recent announcements: many Google applications are built for Android, even if iPhone has more users; Google has two overlapping operating systems: Android and Chrome OS; Google uses TV ads to promote its services.
I'm not sure if these examples are revelatory: Google released important mobile applications for iPhone before they were available for Android and many people wondered why Google doesn't build applications for its own operating system.
Android and Chrome OS seem to be different products: "Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to Netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the Web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small Netbooks to full-size desktop systems." Kevin Fox, a former Google employee, adds: "The two OSes are created for different styles of interaction, so at the end of the day you-the-consumer are looking for a product to meet your portable, ancillary support, quick-use fingertip device, of you’re looking for a focused-attention computing platform in as small a form-factor as is usable. To say that there should only be one Google OS merely because there exists an overlap in the desired form factors for two distinct OSes is as silly as the idea of an iPhone running MacOS or a Mac with the UI of an iPhone."
While TV ads don't have too much in common with Google's culture, it's likely that Google didn't use TV ads to promote the search engine or Gmail because they spread by word of mouth. It's more difficult to convince people to change their browsers and their mobile phones.
"Google is entering the moment where it has to be over-careful not to offend, and extremely attentive to whether they are treading lightly. Is Google evil? It doesn't matter. They've reached the point of corporate ambition and changing corporate culture that means they're going to be perceived as if they are," concludes Anil.
Google is no longer a start-up and each announcement, each mistake and each decision is amplified and exaggerated. If Gmail is down for an hour or Google's search engine has a bug in the ranking algorithm, the mistakes affect millions of people and the complaints propagate instantly.
An interesting explanation for launching products that seemed unlikely a couple of years ago can be found at the bottom of this page:
"When we first wrote these "10 things" four years ago, we included the phrase "Google does not do horoscopes, financial advice or chat." Over time we've expanded our view of the range of services we can offer –- web search, for instance, isn't the only way for people to access or use information -– and products that then seemed unlikely are now key aspects of our portfolio. This doesn't mean we've changed our core mission; just that the farther we travel toward achieving it, the more those blurry objects on the horizon come into sharper focus (to be replaced, of course, by more blurry objects)."