The ads division is mostly firewalled off from the daily concerns of people developing products at Google. They supply cash to the treasury, people think up cool ideas and try to implement them. It works just like startups, where you don't always know what your business model is going to be. Gmail started as a 20% project, not as a grand plan to create an ad channel. Lots of projects and products at Google have no business model, no revenue model, the company does throw money at projects and "figure it out later" how it'll make money.
Do you think Johnny Ive, when designing the Apple Watch is concerned more with the business side of how they'll up-sell different watch bands to make money, or do you think he is absolutely focused on delivering a product experience that is fantastic and that if they do a good job, the business will do well?
Someone may figure out how to shove ads into Inbox later. There are separate teams who figure stuff like that out. But those people are not the ones who control the product features, purpose, or design goals. They don't come to us and say 'Hey, we want to sell more ad space in Gmail, do you think you could come up with a UI to cluster emails so we can surface more ads?' That is not how things work. Products start with ideas to solve user problems, not with ads.
Notice, G+ has been out for years and still doesn't show ads. Do you think G+ was designed to show ads? It was not, otherwise it would have shown them already. Someone will retroactively figure out how to do it at some point. In the same vein that Twitter was launched without knowing how they'd put ads in it.
Products at Google, from Search, to Mail, Calendar, Docs, et al are designed primary to help users. If we do a good job, we will retain our user base, and someone will figure out how to convert that to revenue, be it ads, or direct payments.
Ads are a necessary evil, but they are not the primary motivating force driving designs or features, either inside Google, or in the wider startup community.
But the strategic decisions about what projects get funding and promotion and integration into the google ecosystem and cross promotion, etc. take these things into account. So the end result is that, like every other company on the planet, how revenue is generated affects how products are made. The fact that it's indirect at Google is actually the norm.
"they are not the primary motivating force driving designs or features, either inside Google, or in the wider startup community"
If Ads are the primary revenue generator and the company is long lived then they are one of the primary motivating factors, it's just good management to hide that from the passionate makers who build great things because it is a distraction and a fucking downer.
So, when you see Inbox by Gmail being even more intrusive with ads than regular Gmail, you can raise your arms in the air and declare that you were right all along -- "I told you so!"
I feel like a person who wrote a novel and based one of my characters on an old woman who worked at the corner store, but yet a literary critic reads the "hidden meaning of the text" and insists the woman really represents my mother. And then when it's pointed out that the character is based on a real person who is not my mother and the critic is simply wrong, it's claimed the woman must secretly represent my relationship with my mother anyway.
You're basically asserting that years of product meetings, in which ads are not discussed, and which the only concerns are how to improve user workflow and usability in email, in which we do countless user studies getting feedback from experiments, and then making changes in the system so that people tell us it's working better for them, all of this really is an engineering and product team being manipulated by strategic decision makers.
And while we think what we're really doing and working on is making it easier to manage your mailbox and get at information quicker, we don't realize we're playing right into the hands of a Machiavellian plan by the executives/board to use those same mechanisms for even more intrusive ads, and they haven't let us in on the secret.
Or, maybe we're just trying to make the mail experience better so that people don't get sick of gmail or mail altogether, and go off and use WhatsApp, social network "mail", or some other communication mechanism not ruined by a deluge of noise. Maybe we're concerned that if we don't make things better, users will go elsewhere.
Or maybe, after 10 years, we just thought it was time to give gmail a refresh as it was getting long in the tooth.
All are better and more plausible explanations than the idea that this is a monetization plan for gmail. I personally don't believe mail can ever be monetized effectively like that. Personally, I think mail ads are pretty ineffective and not huge revenue generators.
The reasons for impuning the motives of Google here are political and consequentialist, not about user experience or software quality.
It's about the consequences of having a 3rd party organize and filter your communications according to it's own incentives rather than yours, it's a discussion about power.
It's about the politics of service providers putting themselves in the middle of p2p communication in order to surveil them (to monetize the software/service with ads in this case, although of course the NSA is happily given a copy).
It's not about thinking people at Google are mustache twirling villians or bizdev douches who ruin things by plastering ads on them, it's about the crappy direction that well-meaning people are taking the internet.
So Google is really a trust fund combined with the charities it supports? Either what you're saying is right and Google is a very bad business, or wrong, and Google is excellent at hiding its nature from its own employees (I suspect that both of these are true, to some degree).
> Do you think Johnny Ive, when designing the Apple Watch is concerned more with the business side of how they'll up-sell different watch bands to make money, or do you think he is absolutely focused on delivering a product experience that is fantastic and that if they do a good job, the business will do well?
It doesn't matter what Johnny Ive or some product manager at Google are focused on, or what their intentions are. The history of business, politics, and the world, really, is full of people focusing on doing a job, but all the while advancing a different goal altogether -- whether they mean to or not (this emphasis on intent is a common theme with Google in particular; Google seems to think that if your intentions are good then no bad can come out of your actions, even though there's no reason to believe that's the case, and plenty of reasons to believe the very opposite).
It seems to matter a lot to you.
If the intentions don't matter, why are you so committed to maligning them? Most users seem pretty happy with the results, and if you don't like them, don't use the products.
* I do believe Ives is very aware of the bottom line impact of his designs, and that it affects what he does. He'd be a (starving) artist and not a designer otherwise. Even artists -- great ones -- consider the bottom line.
* If someone cares only about giving users great solutions, then they must concern themselves with the bottom line impact. Costs to the vendor and to the consumer determine, to a large extent, how many people will use the solution.
* Google and Apple are for-profit businesses not digital art colonies. Returning to my above point, that's how they afford to staff so many designers and develop such advanced designs.
* For example, I suspect Ives' ideal iPhone would cost Apple orders of magnitude more than the iPhone 6. I suspect the ideal Inbox would cost Google far more per user than the deployed design. What constraint determines how much the iPhone 6 and Inbox cost their companies? Maximizing profit.
Could you ship a mobile smartphone today without having, minimally, photo backup, cloud backup services, mapping? No. Are these expected to be growth earnings divisions for the company? No, they may even be expected to lose money. Apple Maps is a pure cost for Apple, and iPhones would have sold whether or not Apple had to use third parties.
The Chrome browser doesn't place ads. It doesn't cost anything to use. However, by ensuring that the web is used by more and more people (by helping to make browsing better), and that Google search is used (and not blocked, by say, Internet Explorer owning the market), the Chrome division at Google indirectly makes money for the company by being a defensive moat, but make no mistake they are a cost that makes no revenue or profit.
Having services that deal with SMS, chat, and email are just the price of entry these days for a computing platform. If you're lucky, you break even on them.
Neither Google nor Apple are in the profit maximizing business. If they wanted to maximize profits, they're a lot more they could be doing. Google could shutdown way way more services than the small spring cleanings they do. The company could cut a ton of its profligate R&D spending and stop hiring at the rapid pace it is, as the company's costs are rising far faster. Google could probably lay off 30% of staff and its services would not be affected, much of the money makers are automated.
These tech companies are not being run like General Motors or Walmart, pushing for ruthless efficiency and profit. They are interested in "big" wins, big upsides, not tiny business lines here and there. Take for example, Google Calendar, you think this is raking in billions in ad revenue or Google Apps revenue? Why do we have it then, since micro-econ 101 would tell you to kill it.
I also work on GWT. Google had a team of 25 people working on that project at one point. It's open source. It makes no money. It never will make any money. And it wasn't even used by Google internally during its first few years. Google has a large team of people working on Angular. They won't make any money on this. Angular is used by many more people in the external community than by consumer-facing products (which use Closure Compiler). Those are real costs, lots of money, on things which benefit the external community and Google Brand more than they benefit quarterly revenues.
The simplistic model to which you think these companies are run, always with an eye on monetizing everything directly, is simply wrong.