How Google green lighted Grand Prix


As we close out 2007 and look ahead to 2008, a story sure to dominate headlines throughout the year to come is the battle between Microsoft and Google for control of the digital future. A Google profile in Sunday's New York Times succinctly encapsulates the companies' ideological differences, pitting a Google-led cloud computing environment dominated by remote servers accessible via an array of wired and unwired devices versus a Microsoft-centric world wherein computing remains firmly tied to the desktop. As the article notes, Google is a different animal from previous challengers to Microsoft's throne: It's larger, faster-growing, deeper-pocketed and rich with internal talent. But Google's greatest asset is its speed--no one develops and markets new technologies as efficiently or effortlessly.

Consider that the New York Times feature announces a new Google mobile software suite most of us hadn't even heard about before now: Grand Prix, released with church-mouse quietness earlier this month after just six weeks in internal gestation. Grand Prix promises fast, simplified access to Google services like search, Gmail and calendars through a stripped-down mobile phone browser--at present, it's optimized solely for Apple's iPhone, but other browsers are in the works as well. Grand Prix's evolution was as speedy as its name suggests: A Google engineer putzing around on the weekend devised the prototype code and emailed it to mobile products head Vic Gundotra, who in turn showed it to CEO Eric Schmidt, who passed it on to co-founder/president of technology Sergey Brin. Google employees began testing Grand Prix on their iPhones, contributing feedback and suggesting tweaks, and a few weeks later, the software was officially released, without benefit of traditional product reviews or formal approval protocols.

Contrast Grand Prix with the snail's pace approach favored by Microsoft--the long-rumored Windows Mobile 7, a.k.a. Photon, is still nowhere in sight, and while Windows Mobile 6.1 is reportedly right around the corner, Engadget is buzzing about some post-6.1 updates emphasizing a more user-friendly approach to consumer applications like photos, multimedia and messaging. Further out is a top-to-bottom redesign reportedly boasting a greatly simplified user experience alongside new features like global search and data correlation. Sounds promising, but the question is whether slow and steady still wins the race--chances are that in the time it took me to write this column, a Google engineer brainstormed an idea that's already on the developmental fast track. By comparison it seems Microsoft is running in place, which is about as antithetical to the overall mobile experience as you can get. -Jason  

P.S. FierceDeveloper is going on holiday hiatus, and will resume publication on January 2, 2008. See you then.