Google’s product graveyard: the company’s best, worst, and weirdest ideas
In its earlier years, Google had a Wonka-like ability to push out delightfully inventive new products.
But as the company’s grown larger, it’s become just as notorious for killing some of those products off. There’s an entire website dedicated to remembering the Google Graveyard, and even that doesn’t capture the full breadth of the company’s abandoned efforts.
As Google turns 25, allow us to revisit the highlights. While some of these failures genuinely deserved to die, others were undernourished, misunderstood, or just ahead of their time. They’re not merely marks of shame for Google, but reminders of what might’ve been.
Gone too soon
Googlerola phones: Perhaps in an alternate timeline, Google never sold Motorola to Lenovo in 2014, and instead kept iterating on the wildly ambitious Moto X it launched a year prior. The Moto X pioneered some popular smartphone features such as hands-free voice control and distraction-free driving mode, and it shipped with minimal bloatware. Its “Moto Maker” program even let users customize their bezel colors, accent colors, and rear panel materials, with the results assembled in the United States.
Google sold Motorola to cut costs and remain a neutral party in smartphone hardware, but it eventually recommitted to building its own ecosystem with the Pixel line nearly a decade later. Imagine if the company had stuck with it this whole time.
Google Desktop: Launched in 2004, Google’s Windows app let users search the web, local files, and email all from one place. (A Mac version followed a few years later.) It shut down in 2011, with Google citing a shift toward cloud-based applications.
Even so, the notion of a desktop command bar endures through the likes of Raycast, Slapdash, the forthcoming Dropbox Dash, and Apple’s increasingly robust Spotlight search. Had it not gone away, Google Desktop could have become the ultimate universal search tool.
Bump: Just by fist-bumping someone else with phone in-hand, Bump let users transfer contacts and files across devices. A nifty web version followed, letting users send files to themselves by pressing their phone against the space bar on a keyboard. Google bought Bump for $30 million in 2013, only to kill it the following year so the team could focus on “new projects.”
A decade later, Google’s still trying to recapture Bump’s magic with features like Nearby Share, which is clunkier to set up and far less fun to use.
Not gone soon enough
Google+: Google’s most ambitious social network wasn’t terrible on its own, but what made it so odious was the way it ruined or destroyed other products along the way. Google Reader was the highest-profile victim, but Google’s fixation on fighting Facebook also prompted the demise of Latitude (a handy location-sharing app) and left Picasa to languish. For a couple of years, Google even required a Google+ account to comment on YouTube videos.
None of those moves made Google+ a hit, and Google shut down the service for consumers in 2019 amid low usage and a data leak problem. A work-focused spinoff, called Currents, finally died earlier this year.
Google Buzz: Just a year before launching Google+, the company tried building a different social network on top of Gmail, allowing users to share publicly or with groups directly from their email inbox. The launch quickly prompted a privacy backlash, as its default settings allowed people to easily see who users emailed and chatted with most often. Although Google scrambled to fix its privacy holes, the entire product was soon made redundant by Google+, and the company shut Buzz down at the end of 2011.
Google Glass: Google Glass was a $1,500 set of glasses frames with a small integrated display that floated above the eye. It debuted on an invite-only basis in 2012, but no number of fashion models or Vogue spreads could make Glass look anything but off-putting, and the world was not ready for its potential privacy intrusions either.
The original Glass only lasted two years. An enterprise version resurfaced in 2017, and Google finally gave up on the whole endeavor this year. Maybe it’s a lesson for Apple, which is trying to crack the AR nut with even dorkier hardware.
The weird ones
Google barges: In 2013, when reporters learned of Google’s involvement in a pair of barges that mysteriously arrived in San Francisco, and Portland, Maine, it led to all kinds of speculation about their intended purpose. Were they water-powered data centers? Luxury showrooms for Google Glass? Google never got into much detail, only confirming that it was “exploring using the barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology.”
Nexus Q: Google’s first attempt at building living room hardware was also its strangest. The Nexus Q was a hefty metallic orb that could output video and high-fidelity audio to TVs and speaker systems. It wasn’t a traditional set-top box, though, as users had to control playback via the YouTube and Google Play apps on an Android phone.
After handing out the device at its I/O developers conference in 2012, Google scrapped plans to sell it for $300 to the general public. But the idea wasn’t a total dud; the media casting concept became a runaway hit in Google’s much cheaper Chromecast dongle just a year later.
Google Wave: Long before the arrival of apps like Notion and Slack, Google tried to create a do-it-all workplace app in 2009 with Wave. Like a cross between a wiki and a chat app, users could create threads of free-flowing messages, but could also modify or add to those individual messages at any time. Despite some initial buzz around its invite-only launch, the concept was just too strange to stick. In late 2010, Google turned it over to Apache, where it languished before being retired in 2018.
Project Ara: After a concept video for a modular smartphone went viral in 2013, Google swooped with its own plans to make the idea happen. Project Ara, announced in 2014, would turn every smartphone component into a building block that users could replace or upgrade over time.
Appealing as the idea seemed, Google never figured out how to make it work. It delayed the product several times, then axed it in 2016 amid a broader streamlining of its hardware efforts. These days, the closest equivalent is the Fairphone, though it’s still not as LEGO-like as Ara was supposed to be.
Stadia: Google had big plans for cloud gaming when it announced Stadia in 2019. Beyond just serving up the same games people could get on consoles or gaming PCs, Google said it would enable experiences that couldn’t happen on home hardware. The company painted a picture of 1,000-person multiplayer battles, split-screen play for even the most demanding titles, and a “State Share” feature that would let anyone jump into specific gaming moments.
None of that materialized, as Google failed to understand the complexities of game development and gave up on making Stadia exclusives within just two years. That left Stadia without any big attractions for gamers—who still had to deal with all the vagaries of game streaming—and the service shut down entirely in early 2023. (Amusing aside: Stadia’s reveal event included its own gaming graveyard, with a Stadia controller sitting next to failed ideas like the Nintendo Power Glove. It was oddly prescient.)
Death by distraction
Allo, Duo, Hangouts, and Google Talk: Google’s inability to stick with a single chat app has left a slew of dead products in its wake, but each tells a different story about the search giant’s mindset at the time:
- Google Talk (also known as GChat or GTalk) died to make room for Hangouts, which first launched as a companion voice and text chat service for Google+.
- Hangouts‘ eventual demise was part of Google’s push to make Chat and Meet its sole apps for text and video chat, respectively.
- Duo lived alongside Hangouts as a simple, mobile-first answer to Apple’s Facetime, but it too became subsumed by Meet.
- Allo was Google’s attempt to integrate text messaging with its nascent Google Assistant, but it shut down the app to focus on Android Messages instead.
Today, Google’s messaging situation is more manageable, with Chat for text, Meet for video, and Messages for texting on Android phone, but getting to this point has been ugly.
Works with Nest: Fresh off its acquisition by Google in 2014, Nest announced a slew of clever integrations for its smart thermostats, smoke detectors, and Dropcam cameras. LG’s refrigerators, for instance, could switch to an energy saving mode when no one was home, and Philips’ Hue bulbs could automatically flash in response to a smoke alarm. Other devices, such as Qwikset Locks, would help determine whether users were at home or away.
Google announced in 2019 that it would kill the Works with Nest program to prioritize its own Google Home system, but it spent years trying to rebuild the kinds of home-and-away automations that Nest offered a decade ago. That may explain why the actual shutdown isn’t happening until September of this year.
Inbox: Google launched Inbox in 2014 as a response to buzzy mobile email apps such as Mailbox. It supported swipe gestures and snoozing, and it had a bundling system for less important messages such as marketing emails and receipts.
But over time, Google folded many of those features into Gmail proper, and it tired of maintaining an entirely separate email app with a more experimental interface. It retired Inbox in 2019, and enthusiasts have been trying to replicate its organizational structure inside Gmail ever since.
Google Play Music: It’s understandable why Google discontinued its Play Music streaming service in favor of YouTube Music. The latter has a stronger brand, and it’s a pretty good deal when bundled with YouTube Premium, which offers ad-free YouTube viewing among other features.
Still, YouTube Music was an inferior product out of the gate, with missing features that took years to replicate, and it’s never fully rebuild Google Play Music’s support for personal MP3 libraries. (There’s no desktop app for managing uploads, for instance, and personal music is buried behind submenus.) That Google didn’t merely rebrand its superior Play Music app is a classic example of company dysfunction.
Google Now: Back in 2012, Google had the smart idea to start surfacing relevant information before you even asked for it. Google Now provided users traffic reports, flight statuses, package information, and more, all in one glanceable view.
With the launch of Google Assistant in 2016, Google started phasing out the separate Now brand in favor of a similar “Snapshot” feature. But it eventually just gave up on the entire idea, making Snapshot increasingly hard to find before removing it from Assistant outright.
The most dearest departed
Google Reader: A hot take, if you will: This RSS feed reader is the most overblown resident in Google’s Graveyard. Plenty of news readers have come along since—some with the kind of social features that made Reader unique—yet none of managed to capitalize on the reverence with which Google Reader is treated in some tech circles.
Even so, Reader endures as a symbol of Google’s destructive tendencies. Users loved it, but it died to make room for Google+, which they did not. A decade later, that idea still stings.
Google Labs: Here’s an even better symbol of Google’s ability to taketh away: Reader, like many other early Google successes, was a product of Google Labs, which served as the company’s catch-all incubator for new ideas. Its string of hits included Gmail, Google News, Google Maps, and Google Calendar, but in 2011, Google discontinued Labs as a way to sharpen the company’s focus. In a way, it felt like the end of the whimsical, Wonka-like Google, and the beginning of a stodgier, more corporate one.
Perhaps that explains why, a few months ago, Google revived the Labs label for its push into generative AI. At the old age of 25, Google is trying to recapture of some its experimental spark, even though we all know those experiments don’t always work out.