Fortune magazine managed to score an exclusive interview with Google CEO Larry Page. While he doesn’t reveal a whole lot about the company’s future plans—CEOs are great at offering fuzzy generalities, if nothing else—he manages to reveal just a bit about the ongoing competition with Apple, the evolution of search, and monetizing mobile devices.
Google’s rivalry with Apple has descended into massive lawsuits, but Page doesn’t exactly channel Genghis Khan when it comes to his own feelings on the issue. “I think it would be nice if everybody would get along better and the users didn’t suffer as a result of other people’s activities,” he told the magazine. “We try pretty hard to make our products be available as widely as we can. That’s our philosophy. I think sometimes we’re allowed to do that. Sometimes we’re not.”
Despite the legal battles between the two companies, Apple devices continue to rely on Google’s search engine. (Maps are another story; starting with iOS 6, Apple replaced Google’s mapping data with its own—much to the consternation of some users, including a whole bunch of Australians.)
Apple isn’t Google’s only competitor. In recent years, Facebook has managed to swallow a significant chunk of the online-advertising pie. And while Google’s own social network, Google+, has enjoyed significant growth since its launch in summer 2011, it’s failed to crumble the empire that Zuckerberg built.
In a Dec. 6 corporate blog posting, Google senior vice president Vic Gundotra claimed that Google+ had 135 million users active in its activity stream, while some 235 million engaged with the Google+ features baked into other Google services, such as Hangout video chats in Gmail. In total, some 500 million people have “upgraded” to the platform of integrated Google services that includes the social network.
While describing Google+ as a “big bet,” Page refused to delve deeply into metrics for the platform’s success or failure. “I’m very happy if users of Plus are happy and the numbers are growing because that means that we’re on to something,” he said. “We had 18 different ways of sharing stuff before we did Plus. Now we have one way that works well, and we’re improving.”
But Google+ wasn’t without its controversies; a number of users objected to Google’s decision to surface Google+ information alongside Google search results, an initiative that Google termed “Search, plus Your World.” Breaking user information out of silos and spreading it across the various Google services, some argued, was a violation of privacy.
Naturally, Page casts the decisions related to Google+ in a positive light. “We have to understand anything you might search for. And people are a big thing you might search for,” he told the interviewer. “And so we think about it somewhat differently. We’re going to have people as a first class object in search. We need that to work, and we need to get started on it.”
People, he added, “weren’t focused on the long-term. And I think again it’s important if we’re going to do a good job meeting your information needs, we actually need to understand things and we need to understand things pretty deeply.”
Monetization of mobile devices, he suggested, was very much in the early stages. “The fact that a phone has a location is really helpful for monetization,” he said. “I view a whole bunch of things as additive that you can do on mobile that you couldn’t do before. And I think with those things, we’re going to make more money than we do now.”
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