You can look at Google’s entire portfolio of launches over the past decade, and trace nearly all of them to copying a competitor: Google+ (Facebook), Google Cloud (AWS), Google Home (Amazon Echo), Allo (WhatsApp), Android Instant Apps (Facebook, WeChat), Google Assistant (Apple/Siri), and on and on and on. They are stuck in me-too mode and have been for years. They simply don’t have innovation in their DNA any more. And it’s because their eyes are fixed on their competitors, not their customers.
But fourth, last, and probably worst of all, Google has become 100% competitor-focused rather than customer focused. They’ve made a weak attempt to pivot from this, with their new internal slogan “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” But unfortunately it’s just lip service. It’s not that they don’t care. The problem is that their incentive structure isn’t aligned for focusing on their customers, so they wind up being too busy and it always gets deprioritized. A slogan isn’t good enough. It takes real effort to set aside time regularly for every employee to interact with your customers. Instead they play the dangerous but easier game of using competitor activity as a proxy for what customers really need. This is where their incentives are focused. Google incentivizes successful feature and product launches, and by far the easiest, safest way to produce those is by copying competitors.