Google Chrome’s innovation: Focus on what matters and make it relevant

While the statistics are debated, apparently Google’s Chrome browser has overtaken Firefox for the number two spot in two short years and now sits behind Internet Explorer. Why has this happened?

Two years ago Firefox was cruising. Their value proposition was that of reliability and security. They created a browser that never crashed and protected users. Two attributes people didn’t associate with Internet Explorer because of it’s propensity for getting exploited by hackers and malware.

They also pioneered the ability to personalize the browser by letting developers create extensions that added more functionality to the browsers. Mozilla took advantage of this and became the browser of choice for techies and internet enthusiasts.

But this focus on reliability, security and personalization, while great, made them blind to an emerging dimension: speed.

Google focused it’s efforts on making a browser that was not just reliable and secure, but also very very fast. It even touted that it was faster than lighting, and it is.

Well guess what?

The same thing that happened to Internet Explorer has happened to Firefox. It stopped innovating in the dimensions that matter to people. And now they’ve been playing catch up to Chrome ever since.

How did this happen?

People are spending more and more time on the web, interacting with applications that require more resources and look just like desktop applications. This requires speed. Because of it’s place in the tech industry, it’s vision and it’s business model; Google understood this. And acted accordingly. It’s also important to mention that Google is disruptive by nature, so it’s not that surprising to see them create both a browser and and OS that aim to help people do this things much faster. Both of which serve it’s vision and it’s business model.

It’s very difficult to displace a competitor who bets their reputation on an attribute you have to catch up to. According to some tests, Firefox 8 is just as fast as Chrome. And so is Internet Explorer and Opera (some tests indicate IE9 and Opera are the fastest browsers). The problem here is, everybody associates Chrome with speed. And speed, in internet time, is the killer feature.

Competition is great because it forces companies to innovate. No doubt Chrome has been great for the internet and it’s users because it forced other browsers to adapt and offer the same benefits. And just like IE has seen it’s dominant position evaporate because they stopped innovating, Firefox is in the same position. Google innovated the browser in a different dimension and made it matter to people, and now they’re riding this advantage.

If you’ve been using Chrome for the last two years you can see that it’s adopted some of the features of Firefox and Opera while still keeping the browser blazing fast. This was expected as extending browser functionality was and industry standard. And it’s completely modified the browser wars.

This just goes to show how fast things move on the web. And also just how fast your value proposition and the advantages you’ve built it on can become irrelevant in an instant.

There are other factors that played a role in helping Chrome catch up quickly such as Google’s large techie user base, it’s home screen and it’s marketing muscle. Not to mention the fact that Chrome actually did what it said it did.

But there are few things worth pointing out for those of you who may be seeing red when there are blue areas you may be overlooking:

  1. Being late doesn’t mean being irrelevant. Just like Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, Google didn’t invent the browser. They just saw the need to innovate in another dimension and made it matter to people. Now everyone is playing catch up.
  2. Keep your users existing needs in check but look beyond them. I’m pretty sure users of Firefox and IE didn’t ask for a faster browser. Most likely people were thinking it’s all about their internet connection. How could they know or think that a browser could be much faster? They couldn’t!
  3. Focus on what matters and make it relevant. So much of innovation is about focusing on an attribute or feature no one else is exploring.

Incumbents are more focused on extending their current feature set than on thinking beyond it. The question is: Will it matter to people? Does it make their life better? Does it improve on the industry standard?

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