Sundar Pichai’s Verbal Black Hole

Google’s head-of-pretty-much-everything, Sundar Pichai, gave a lengthy interview to Forbes, which I was really excited about. As a new-ish fan of Android, a heavy user of Google services, and someone who is very bullish on Chromebooks, I was very interested to hear what the man at the center of it all might have to say about the company’s grand vision.
And Christ, it was hard to get through. Interviewer Miguel Helft asks Pichai to name a few of Google’s big priorities, and I dare you to stay awake as you read Pichai’s jargon-filled, hedgy, repetitive response:

The core of what Google is about is bringing information to people. You’ve seen us evolve search over the last many years. If you use search on mobile today, it is a very different product: you get answers, we focus on how we get you to the actions you need to quicker. It feels very different, and then we have things like Google Now. For me, evolving and innovating in those areas to make sure we assist users and help users with what they need at a deeper level at a more intelligent level [is a top priority]. There’s enough progress in core computer science areas that I think we can do that. That’s an important area. That’s the heart of what we do.

The second big area I focus on is computing and the core of things like Android and Chrome. Not just evolving the mobile experience we have today, thinking beyond mobile. I think users will use computing in many places, on multiple screens, it will be much more integral in their lives. So how do you evolve that experience, how do you make it more powerful. That includes core underlying Android, Chrome or cloud platform work and thinks like Google Play. I think there’s a lot to be done there.

It’s also important for us to make sure our monetization works because that’s the engine that helps us drive all this innovation. So thinking about monetization in the context of mobile and making sure we are doing interesting things is a big part of what I m focused as well.”

Yes, the word “core” appears four times. I wonder if any were edited out.

The entire interview reads like this. Lots of dancing around more difficult questions, such as Google’s relationship with Apple, or how Google and Android stand in terms of mobile.

And while we’re at it, why is it still a question as to whether Google is in good shape for mobile? Read his answer to that question:

To me, mobile is a huge opportunity. We are taking a long term view. For example, we could have done the Play thing earlier, but we were building out the experience. The way we have always approached this is making sure the platform works, that’s always been the higher priority for us. I think we are well positioned to do well on top of that. It’s not something we are particularly concerned about. When you look at all our core products, they do well in mobile. Even our mobile monetization. I think we are doing the shift well, and I see the momentum. Internally, we have very different cadences, we are working on long term things. The external narrative is one thing. For me, all I can focus on is making sure we are making progress against these opportunities.

“I think we are well positioned”? “Not particularly concerned”? “Making progress against these opportunities”? It’s 2015. If the press or users don’t know the answer to whether Google is “well positioned” for mobile, or if its chief-of-all-products can’t answer it clearly, that screams trouble to me.

Maybe Pichai is just a boring guy, and can only speak in corporate-speak. Maybe they should have had a PR rep do this kind of interview for him. (Google, call me!) Maybe that’s all this is. But as someone who wants a thriving and innovative Google (just as I want a thriving and innovative Apple), this erodes my confidence.

On a separate note, Pichai’s answer about Google and the Chinese market interested me on a different level. Remember, Google search pulled out of China a few years ago after being unable to square its interests and users’ interests with the demands of the Chinese government. Today, Android is all over China, but the open-source version of Android (known as AOSP), where Google plays essentially no role and makes no money off it. Here’s what Pichai says about whether China is “a black hole” for Google:

China is obviously one of the biggest markets out there.

No, it’s the biggest. Hedging again. More:

Android is powering a lot of innovation in China. That’s important to me. It would be a privilege to serve Chinese users. We obviously have had a set of issues in the past, but we also see opportunities. We have seen a lot of interest from Chinese developers on Google Play, because the extent to which Android is used. We see those as opportunities ahead. If we can figure out a model by which we can serve those users, it would be a privilege to do so. So I don’t think of China as a black hole. I see it as a huge opportunity in which we are playing as an enabling platform today and hopefully we have a chance to offer other services in the future.

Now that’s a change of tone, moving (slightly) away from jargon and into what sounds almost like a love note. He acknowledges that they don’t have a way in yet, but boy oh boy, would it be a “privilege” to serve those users.

Maybe if he stops talking like he does in this interview, they’ll let him in.

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