Today Google revealed it's completely made-over its young social network Google+, as part of a push to make a "simpler, more beautiful Google." Those among you who've long thought Google's 1990's-era design habits needed a serious overhaul will be pleased at the effort made to streamline the look and feel of G+, to make better use of icons and whitespace, make navigation by users more effortless, brush up the way photos look and bump their size, and highlight the impressive Hangouts facility. But really the design effort is just fluff: What this really is is the next cannon-shot across Facebook's bow.
For starters, this makeover actually does look a lot sweeter than Facebook's increasingly-complex page layouts. And because Google's chosen to make it very customizable (some cynical types may say it's over-customizable, a typical-trick from Google), it also offers something you can't get on Facebook.
More importantly this whole push will make Google+ a lot nicer to use, which may move its appeal out of a slightly hacker-ish demographic and more into the mainstream. We know Google's been trumpeting G+'s numbers at the moment, and the firm has just obviously spent a huge amount of time and money to make G+ even more attractive, and "simpler" to use so it may entice still more folk aboard. We've also seen Google controversially consolidate its user data into one pile, in a simultaneous move that's had G+ threaded through pretty much every Google service...But which also means it's in a prime position to deliver socially-informed user-targeted advertising.
All of which is a direct shot at Facebook. It's not, let's be clear, a reaction to Facebook's purchase of Instagram: Google's not reeling from a surprising slap across the face issued by Facebook's $1 billion buy, and reacting by making G+ even funkier (and much more photo-centric). Well, rumors suggest Google may be reeling a little as it may have wanted to buy Instagram itself...and, oddly enough, Amazon may have been chasing it too because it powers Instagram's back-end. But anyway, this G+ makeover's been on the way for months.
Meanwhile Spotify, a fiercely independant little disruptive entity in the online music game, just launched its "play" button that is quite definitely a play, sorry, in the game to beat Apple's iTunes-and-iDevices system. Spotify, you may remember, is in bed with Facebook as Facebook's music-streaming front-end--something Apple completely lacks. Spotify is risking its brand a little, as it's not a truly international enterprise, and clicking on the play button in an unsupported region results in one of those irritating "your region's not supported!"-type messages that irritate users and may drive them elsewhere. But at least it's a bold move, and one Apple just can't answer yet.
And at the same time Apple's been busy invading Amazon's turf by pushing for an agency pricing model for ebooks that traditional publishers, wary of Amazon's unilateral (and controversial) price-cutting habits, seem to have preferred. So much so that the DOJ has now said it's suing Apple and a group of these publishers for price-fixing...although it's being argued that some of the data the DOJ may have used to build its case is based on wildly incorrect math by a lobbying firm. Nonetheless, Apple's been making many a big play in the ebook game, including a very high-profile push to take e-textbooks into the 21st Century. And Amazon's been trying to eat away at Apple's iPad market share with its low-price (if low-spec) Fire tablet.
Google wants in on the tablet game too, and is said to be releasing its own-brand Android tablet in a few months that may even out-price Amazon's model, which in fact uses Google's code--albeit so completely buried under its own UI that Google probably doesn't make any cash from it. The Google tablet would also be another invasion of Apple's iPad turf. Which is perhaps only fair, as Apple's hugely successful new iPhone 4S contains Siri tech, which lets Apple push user's "search" query data into its own databases, and the queries themselves away from Google's core search business. And Apple's also said to be moving away from using Google map tech, by making its own mapping system...which we can hope is better than Ping, its limp effort to steal Facebook's music thunder. Meanwhile Amazon's also launched a 30%/70% split in-app purchase system to rival Google's and Apple's app store powers...
...And so on, ad infinitum.