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Failed Google products that could have been great
Google services and products have enriched the lives of tech fans, business people, and anyone who’s ever been curious enough to ask a question on the internet. We all know about Search, Gmail, Maps, Chrome, YouTube, and Android. We’ve recently seen new names added to the Google hall of fame, too — most notably the Pixel smartphones and Google Assistant-powered Nest smart devices.
What about Google’s epic fails? For the Mountain View company’s many successes, a bunch of apps, devices, and other products it birthed or acquired ultimately floundered and died, often killed in an unceremonious fashion.
Websites like Google Cemetery and Killed by Google (as well as Ars Technica’s Google Kills Product series) are dedicated to tracking the big G’s dead products, so we thought it’d be fun to sift through the corpses and put together a list of the most interesting failed Google projects. Here are the top products in the Google Graveyard!
Google Answers (2002 — 2006)
Intended for inquisitive people to ask the internet hive mind questions for cash bounties, Answers eventually devolved into a mad house dominated by trolls and spammers. Google Questions and Answers replaced it, which also shut down in 2014. Nowadays, we have algorithm-based Google Search Answer Boxes for all of our quick-fire questions.
Dodgeball (2005 — 2007)
Dodgeball was a text-based predecessor to Google Latitude. It let users know when friends and interesting places were nearby. One of the original creators, Dennis Crowley, co-founded Foursquare (which built on Dodgeball’s core concepts) after becoming frustrated by Google’s lack of support for the service. Dodge, dip, duck, dive, and dead.
Google Lively (2008 — 2008)
Back when creepy virtual life simulators like Second Life and Habbo Hotel took the internet by storm, Google attempted to cash in on the hype with Lively — a virtual world sim with user-created avatars and virtual chat rooms. It lasted just five months.
Google Ride Finder (2007 — 2009)
Did you know Google had a ride-hailing service before Uber was even a thing? Ride Finder used the user’s geolocation to find nearby taxis, shuttles, or carpools in 14 US cities. The limited service meant it never really caught on. Uber came to be the same year Ride Finder died; the rest, as they say, is history. It gets some bonus points for being first, though.
GOOG-411 (2007 — 2010)
GOOG-411 was a telephone directory service connecting callers to relevant US and Canadian businesses using voice recognition technology. Unsurprisingly, most people used the traditional 411 line, but apparently, the voice data Google collected was integral in the early development of voice services like Google Now and, eventually, Google Assistant. It gets a slightly higher ranking just for that.
Google Desktop (2004 — 2011)
This was a nifty sidebar program you could install on Linux, macOS, and Windows. It placed a search toolbox on your desktop for scanning through local files, and offered quick access to a clock, weather, news feed, Gmail feed, and photos stored locally on the PC, among other things. Google killed off Desktop as it began to focus more on cloud storage. It was a useful bit of software that naturally became obsolete as desktop OS’ began to offer similar built-in features.
Google Labs (2006 — 2011)
Google Labs was a playground for experimental projects and was responsible for many of the abandoned projects listed in this article. The platform ran for five years, during which time “adventurous users” got to have some fun testing Google’s experiments and provide direct feedback to the engineers and researchers. At the time, Google’s stance was to “launch early and often,” but that seemingly changed when former CEO Larry Page said the company needed to put “more wood behind fewer arrows.” Several days later, Google announced the closure of Google Labs, citing Page’s cumbersome wood-based analogy.
Google Gears (2007 — 2011)
Gears was an open-source browser extension that enabled web-based apps to run offline. That sounds great, so why is it dead? All those features were built into HTML5 and hard-coded into web browsers, which completely eliminated Gears purpose for existing when the new platform launched. It was a noble solution to a common problem faced by web app devs at the time.
Google Fast Flip (2009 — 2011)
Before Google News, the Mountain View firm had a news aggregator called Fast Flip. The Google Labs project collected news from across the world and presented them in a clever, microfiche-esque style using text and images.
Google Sidewiki (2009 — 2011)
Confusingly not a wiki-like platform in the slightest, Sidewiki was essentially a comment section for any website Google was hosting as a browser extension. Website owners hated it.
Google Body (2010 — 2011)
You’ve probably heard of at least a handful of entries on this list, but there’s a good chance you had no idea Google had a web app for showing 3D models of the human body. You also probably didn’t know that on April Fools’ Day 2011, the site showed a cow instead of a human body. That’s right; there was a Google Cow. It’s honestly a crime this got shut down.
Google Dictionary (2010 — 2011)
Why would you need a Google-made Dictionary when websites found through Search already provide all the answers? You wouldn’t!
Also: The best dictionary apps
Google Buzz (2010 — 2011)
Buzz was the search giant’s major attempt at social networking before Google Plus. As a social component within Gmail, Buzz was a bit like Twitter, allowing users to post status updates, photos, videos, and links. Google retired the service just over a year after it launched due to privacy issues that cost Google a hefty $8.5 million lawsuit settlement. The crime? Using Gmail information for a social platform without asking users for permission. Oops.
Google Video (2005 — 2012)
Google Video was a free platform where users could upload video clips for the whole world to see. The service came up against impossible competition from YouTube, so Google did what Google is wont to do — it bought YouTube.
Urchin (2005 — 2012)
Urchin was the precursor to Google Analytics, a service that would become far and away the most helpful web analytics program on the market. Mark this one up as another product on this list that’s more notable for what came after it.
Google Health (2008 — 2012)
Google Health was a centralized personal health record service where US users could upload their medical data. It was beset by privacy concerns and closed by Google after failing to make a “broad impact.”
Knol (2008 — 2012)
It’s deliciously ironic that the first search hit you get for Knol — Google’s answer to Wikipedia — is a Wikipedia entry about it written in the past tense.
Google Listen (2009 — 2012)
The release of Google Podcasts in 2018 saw the big G entering the hotly contested podcast app arena, but it wasn’t Google’s first stab at podcast apps on the Play Store. Google Listen didn’t last long, however, as other, better podcast apps pushed it down the charts and eventually into oblivion.
Google Wave (2010 — 2012)
In the dark days before Slack, we had Google Wave. The web-based collaborative tool borrowed its name from the (excellent) Firefly TV series, enabling users to work together in so-called “waves.” Everyone accessing a single wave could see the other participants type letter by letter in real-time as if chatting through an instant messenger. All edits were stored via a timeline, allowing you to see what was edited and when. If that all sounded a bit convoluted and open to abuse, that’s because it was. Google abandoned the project shortly after Wave’s public launch and handed it over to the Apache Software Foundation, which rebranded the service Apache Wave — which it eventually retired in 2018.
Google SMS Search (2004 — 2013)
For a time, Google SMS Search was the company’s solution to wanting to look things up without having internet access. It let mobile phone users text queries (weather reports, sports updates, currency conversions, and the like) to a pre-set number. That number was 466453, which happens to spell Google on alphanumeric keypads. Clever!
iGoogle (2005 — 2013)
The horribly-named iGoogle was an interactive home page for your browser packed with web-based “gadgets.” You could add and remove gadgets (simple widgets) or move them around within the browser window to fit your needs. Google said the need for iGoogle “eroded over time” due to the maturing capabilities of websites and mobile apps. Plenty of websites and Chrome extensions attempt to recreate iGoogle’s widget-based pages, but they’ll never match the magic of the real thing.
Google Reader (2005 — 2013)
Google launched Reader in 2005 as a free tool to easily aggregate RSS-enabled feeds from multiple sites. The company admitted Reader had “a loyal following,” but decided to shut down the service as part of its brutal Spring cleaning in 2013, citing a decline in usage. You can still aggregate your content feeds using Feedly and other RSS platforms on desktop, and on Android, thanks to a bunch of RSS apps available via the Google Play Store. Many still mourn its loss.
Google Latitude (2009 — 2013)
Latitude allowed smartphone owners to disclose their current location on Google Maps via a Google account. This opt-in service was an excellent way to keep up with friends and family wherever they were, but only if they shared their location. As part of a Maps redesign, Google chose to discontinue Latitude and integrate its check-in and location features into Google Plus — and we all know how that worked out. Unfortunately for Google, Latitude has become something of a footnote for online check-ins as Facebook’s equivalent feature — introduced in 2010 — is now the de facto way of letting folks know where you are in the world.
Nexus Q (2012 — 2013)
Hailed by Google as the ultimate digital media player, the Nexus Q was intended to showcase the magic of technologies like NFC and Android Beam to control all media within the home. Less than a year after its grand reveal at Google I/O 2012, the spherical “social” hub was quietly nixed before it even hit shelves. Preview units were sent out to those who pre-ordered the $300 device for free, but a commercial release was quietly abandoned after the Nexus Q received a truckload of criticism over its high price tag and comparatively limited features.
Read more: What is the best smart speaker you can buy?
QuickOffice (2004 — 2014)
Before Google acquired it, QuickOffice was the go-to office suite for Symbian and Palm devices. It also delivered the de facto document, spreadsheet, and presentation editing apps for Android, before Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides came along. A redundant service by today’s standards, QuickOffice was a superb alternative to Microsoft Office for mobile platforms.
Orkut (2004 — 2014)
One of the many failed social media apps from Google to make this list (shoutout to Jaiku, which narrowly missed a spot), Orkut enjoyed a brief spurt of popularity in Brazil and India in the late noughties before going right in the bin like every other Google social media platform.
Bump! (2009 — 2014)
If you ever owned an Apple smartphone between the iPhone 4 and iPhone 6 eras, you’ll probably remember Bump! As the name suggests, Bump was a clever little app that involved bumping two phones together to share photos and files with other users. The app sat at number eight in Apple’s all-time top ten charts for free apps in 2011 and amassed hundreds of millions of downloads. It was also released on Android, but all versions stopped working after Google bought Bump Technologies and terminated the app’s functionality, all within the space of around four months. A sad end for a hugely popular and incredibly useful app.
Google Schemer (2011 — 2014)
Imagine a bucket list site your friends and family could see online, and you’ve basically got Google Schemer. The service was another victim of Google Plus’ unfulfilled ambition to be the Next Big Thing.
Google Offers (2011 — 2014)
After trying and failing to buy Groupon in 2010 for a reported $6 billion, Google decided to take a crack at the deal-of-the-day-style coupon market with its own service, Google Offers. Groupon is still going (for now). Google Offers was canned after three years. That tells you all you need to know.
Related: Find our favorite deals here!
Google Moderator (2008 — 2015)
Moderator was made famous by then-President-elect Barack Obama and was designed to aggregate a huge pool of user-submitted questions and suggestions based on crowdsourced feedback. A smart idea for sure, but Google eventually took the site offline, citing low usage.
Google Catalogs (2011 — 2015)
Back when tablets were the hottest new thing in consumer tech, Google waded into the space with Catalogs — a tablet-focused app hosting virtual product catalogs for various retailers. Those same retailers quickly realized they were better off having their own apps, leaving Catalogs as something of a forgotten relic.
Google Play Editions (2013 — 2015)
The precursor to Android One, Google Play Edition phones were essentially regular smartphones made by Samsung, HTC, and other OEMs with stock Android. Almost exclusively available to buy direct from Google, the series included Google Play versions of beloved phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4, Moto G, and HTC One. We don’t necessarily want Play Editions back in their previous incarnation, but we’d love to see more Android One-ified models hit the market.
Helpouts (2013 — 2015)
Not to be confused with Hangouts, Helpouts was a user-led online helpdesk for anything and everything where “providers” could get paid for offering online support and tutorials. Another service shuttered due to lack of growth. Helpouts was a great idea and, in theory, paved the way for altruistic apps like Be My Eyes. In reality, it was too closely linked with Google Plus’ lackluster ecosystem. It also forced experts to cough up 20% of their revenue, which was as unpopular as you might expect.
Picasa (2002 — 2016)
Initially developed by Lifescape, Picasa was a free image organizer and editor for Linux, macOS, and Windows that Google purchased in 2004. Google discontinued the desktop program in 2016 to focus solely on its successor, Google Photos. While some desktop users still mourn Picasa’s loss, the cross-platform support of Google Photos is a considerable improvement.
Panoramio (2005 — 2016)
Panoramio was a service purchased by Google in 2007 that relied on user-submitted geo-located tagged photos. Google incorporated Panoramio into Google Earth so users could see additional views of a specific area. Despite the high volume of image uploads by 2016, Google decided to sunset Panoramio in favor of Google Maps for mobile and the Local Guides program. Not a bad product by any means, but certainly a redundant one by the time of its demise.
Google Code (2006 — 2016)
Google shut down its project hosting service in 2016. The platform served as a hub for developers for ten years, giving them tools to store their code, control revisions, document the project’s progression, and more. Google decided to shut down the service a decade after its creation and moved around 1,000 of its projects to GitHub, which continues to grow in popularity, and is unquestionably a far superior platform.
Google Nexus (2010 — 2016)
Oh, Nexus. One of the saddest casualties of Google’s axe, the Nexus smartphone series should require no introduction to regular Android Authority readers. While the “core” Android experience lives on with the Pixel line and Android One phones, the Nexus brand gave us some of the greatest handsets ever made, offering killer specs at affordable prices. Google never officially killed the Nexus series, but after three years in the wilderness, it’s time to say goodnight, sweet prince. We miss you.
Google Now (2012 — 2016)
A necessary evil to get us to the promised land of Google Assistant, Google Now was a Search feature with nascent voice support that bombarded Google app and Android users with predictive information cards. Assistant’s improved AI would eventually streamline all of Now’s more cluttered UI elements and transform Now’s stilted, one-way conversations into something a little more natural. It was still way better than Siri, though. Siri sucks.
Project ARA (2014 — 2016)
This short-lived project was one of the best concepts nuked by Google. The idea was to divide all major smartphone components into modular parts. Customers would simply upgrade a specific component instead of spending hundreds of dollars upgrading the entire phone. The ambitious blueprint was diluted over time until Google pulled the plug. This hurts even more in hindsight, as phones continue to surge past the $1,000 mark.
Google Talk (2005 — 2017)
Before Hangouts, Allo, Messages, and Duo, we had Google Talk — Google’s first and probably best messaging app. The service was free and integrated into Gmail, letting you send and receive instant messages within Google’s email client from any device. There were also Google Talk apps for Android, Windows, and Blackberry phones. You could even use Talk to place a real-time video call with a paid Google Voice account. Times changed, though, and Google’s (doomed) desire to plug everything through Google Plus spelled the end for Talk. It was slowly phased out for Hangouts, which later evolved into an enterprise-focused pair of apps for G Suite. Don’t worry. Google has plenty of other apps and services for your messaging and voice needs — too many.
Google Chrome Apps (2010 — 2017)
Google’s attempt to create a utopia of Chrome-based web apps fell on deaf ears, with the company admitting that only one percent of Windows, Mac, and Linux users used Chrome-packaged apps a year before its death. Progressive Web Apps are the future, don’t you know?
Google Spaces (2016 — 2017)
Yet another Google messaging app that died a quick death, Spaces let users create private group chats for sharing links, photos, and videos. The big selling point was direct integration with YouTube, Chrome, and Search, but no one took any notice and carried on using Messenger, WhatsApp, and other non-Facebook-owned social apps. It’ll officially be dead in April 2019.
Google Hands Free (2016 — 2017)
Do you ever feel a slight pang of embarrassment as you reach for your expensive smartphone or watch to pay for a bag of chips with Google Pay instead of using a card or cold hard cash? Imagine that multiplied by a hundred, and that’s Google Hands Free, a Bluetooth-enabled mobile payment system where you had to actually say “I’ll pay with Google” out loud to confirm a transaction.
In theory, voice payments are a great idea, but can we make the activation phrase a lot less cringey next time, please.
Nexus Player (2014 — 2018)
After failing to get the Nexus Q off the ground (more on that later) and with its semi-replacement Google Chromecast flying high, Google turned to Asus and Intel for help with its efforts to bring its nascent Android TV platform to the masses. Despite receiving support for two years after its discontinuation, Google never really got behind its full-fledged digital media player, instead focusing on Chromecast and letting other, better Android TV boxes represent the OS.
Google URL Shortener (2009 — 2018)
Created as a simple tool to shorten web addresses, Google shut down goo.gl just shy of its tenth birthday. As well as shortening URLs, goo.gl links could also send web surfers directly to specific apps on iOS and Android. Google cited changes to how people access webpages and content as its reason for discontinuing the URL-shrinking service, but it’ll be sad to see the funky-looking short URLs go offline for good on March 30, 2019.
Google Goggles (2010 — 2018)
Project Tango (2014 — 2018)
Tango was another stepping stone project for Google. Sensing the dawn of an augmented future for consumer tech (which still hasn’t arrived), Google built the Tango API for its AR ambitions. We got two Tango phones — the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro and Asus Zenfone AR — before the project was canned in favor of ARCore, an SDK far less hardware-reliant than Tango that only needed a decent smartphone camera to work.
Google Plus (2011 — 2019)
Google’s long-awaited answer to Facebook, Google Plus (or Google+), launched in 2011, but never gained even a fraction of the latter’s popularity. The experience was just plain weird, with the final redesign turning the social site into something akin to a tile-based news feed. The final nail hammered into the Google Plus coffin stemmed from a serious need to overhaul the platform’s privacy and security components after a massive security hole was discovered. Of all of Google’s many social projects, Google Plus represents its most high-profile failure. The doomed social network was erased from existence for good in April, 2019.
Inbox by Gmail (2014 — 2019)
Google launched Inbox as a Gmail offshoot with a more experimental slant. Innovative features like Smart Reply, snoozing, bundling, and much more gave the Inbox app an AI-powered edge over the standard Gmail client — at least until 2018. Gmail’s redesign incorporated most of Inbox’s smarts. Promises that the product would carry on as normal proved hollow as later that year, Google called time on Inbox. It shut down for good in March 2019. Sad times.
Chromecast Audio (2015 — 2019)
Chromecast Audio was an offshoot of Google’s famous media caster that let users syphon digital music libraries through to non-smart speakers via a 3.5mm jack or mini-TOSLINK socket. The Chromecast Audio died in January 2019. I still use mine almost every day.
Google Allo (2016 — 2019)
What if WhatsApp had a digital assistant? It’s a question no one asked, but Google answered it anyway. The Allo messaging app suffered from a serious identity crisis. It wasn’t quite a typical instant messenger, but also definitely wasn’t built for SMS. Many of Allo’s features — like Smart Reply and desktop support — have transferred to Google’s Messages app, and Allo itself perished for good in March 2019.
Google Daydream (2016 — 2019)
The Google Daydream headset and platform were among the best the industry had to offer. The unit was built beautifully, supported numerous devices, and even had an external remote for a more complete experience. However, VR tech wasn’t as adopted as everyone expected it to be. Google decided to shift focus to further improve augmented reality on its smartphones, killing the project for good.
Google Clips (2017 — 2019)
GoPro-style active cameras are a huge success, and Google wanted to break into the portable camera market with Google Clips. This was a small camera with a gorgeous, clean design, and good quality. What made it different? The camera could tap into Google’s algorithmic power to automatically record fun clips. It was a fun little gadget, but had too many downsides when compared to its competition. As such, the project found no success and was killed in 2019.
Google Cloud Print (2010 — 2020)
Google Cloud Print was a convenient service that allowed you to connect to printers remotely. You could use it to print photos and documents from any connected device, even from across the world. It was a beneficial tool, and we don’t know if Google is working on an alternative. Regardless, there are now more ways to connect to your printers remotely. Most newer ones come with their own connectivity tools.
Google Play Music (2011 — 2020)
Why create a whole new music service when you can build it right into YouTube? Google decided to simplify its services and replaced Google Play Music with YouTube Music in 2020. Play Music died gracefully, and we all had to move to YouTube Music, or other services.
Google Fiber TV (2012 — 2020)
Fiber now focuses on offering super-fast internet services, but it was also a cable TV competitor at first. Google Fiber TV had live TV services over the internet, even including premium channels and DVR functionality. Fiber’s TV services were terminated in 2020, likely because the company might have felt the service was no longer necessary. There are now plenty of live TV online services, including Google’s own YouTube TV.
Google Toolbar (2000 — 2021)
Google Toolbar was a handy feature that placed a toolbar on web browser URL bars. You could use it to make Google searches, access your Google services, and more. The service may seem much less necessary now that Chrome is the top player. Additionally, you can always set Google as your default search engine on any browser.
Google Play Movies & TV (2011 — 2021)
Here’s another service YouTube took over. Google Play Movies & TV was the de facto hub for renting and buying movies and TV shows from Google. It died in 2021, and now YouTube is the place to go.
Google Cardboard (2014 — 2021)
Google Cardboard brought VR to the masses. All you needed was a smartphone and an amazingly affordable cardboard contraption, which you could even make yourself. It seems the project went down when VR lacked to grab the expected attention. That said, you can still find plenty of Google Cardboard headsets out there.
Backup and Sync (2017 — 2021)
Google didn’t really kill Backup and Sync. Think of it as a rebrand, instead. It was replaced by a desktop tool called Google Drive, which does precisely the same job. You can use it to sync your Google Drive files with your PC.
Google OnHub (2015 — 2022)
Before Google started making its own routers, it was partnering with Asus and TP-Link to make Google-integrated Wi-Fi routers. You could control them with an app. Sounds familiar, right? Google OnHub has recently been killed, and Google’s routers have taken over since then.
Chrome Apps (2013 — 2022)
Google Chrome Apps were convenient applications that could run directly from the Chrome browser. They were light and fast, and worked on Chrome OS. Google has been phasing these failed Google products out since 2020. In 2022, Chrome apps for enterprise will be axed, killing the project altogether. Don’t worry, though! You can still use Chrome Extensions.
YouTube Go (2016 — 2022)
YouTube Go was a lighter version of the full YouTube app. It was an alternative for YouTube viewers with lower-end devices and less sophisticated internet connections. Google no longer deems this necessary. It claims to have enhanced its normal mobile YouTube app to work perfectly on less powerful handsets and slower internet connections.
YouTube Originals (2016 — 2022)
It seems YouTube Originals wasn’t the hit Google was expecting. Instead, Google is focusing on other types of content moving forward. That said, the content is still available, and you can watch it for free (with ads).
That’s our list of failed Google products! Did we miss any projects? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.