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Google can recover from the Gemini flop. Just look at Apple Maps.

Peter Kafka   

Google can recover from the Gemini flop. Just look at Apple Maps.
  • Google's Gemini flop looks bad from the outside. On the inside, too.
  • But Google could turn around this crucial product, and no one will remember this failed launch.

How long will people in and outside Google be upset about its Gemini debacle — when it spent a ton of time and effort to create its own version of ChatGPT and ended up with a comically biased chatbot?

I have no idea! I can tell you that I talked to a bunch of Googlers last week and got a picture quite similar to the one that journalist Alex Kantrowitz sketches out here — that people at the company are deeply distressed.

Not because their secret scheme to infect consumer technology with wokeness has been uncovered. Because that scheme doesn't exist. But because the failed response to OpenAI has brought into question Google's ability to harness all of its money and brainpower to create a world-class product.

Which is a pretty big problem, if it turns out to be true.

On the other hand: Google does have a lot of money and brainpower. And people have very short memories. So maybe Google can recover from this, and most people will never remember any of this — if they're even aware of it in the first place.

Last week I mentioned the parallels between Gemini and Twitter's clumsy attempt to squelch an article about Hunter Biden's laptop.

Apple Maps fiasco could point the way forward

But let's be more positive this time around, with a different echo from the Big Tech Screwups file: Remember Apple Maps?

Specifically: Do you remember in 2012, when Apple launched its competitor to Google Maps, and ended up with a totally unreliable product, which told users to do things like drive into the ocean?

Apple Maps, which was supposed to be a crucial weapon in Apple's fight with Google over the future of the mobile phone, was such a complete flop that even Tim Cook had to admit it.

Even more than admit it: Cook, then the newly ascended head of the company, published a full apology on Apple's website and told iPhone users that they should use rival companies' maps until Apple got its act together. He also fired the executive in charge of the product.

Astonishing stuff.

And then, over time, Apple did get its act together, and people did start using Apple Maps, and now there are plenty of normal people who use Apple Maps as a default, and some of them even argue that it's better than Google Maps.

So cheer up, Googlers. There is a version where this turns around.

Except: The time between Apple Maps' flop and that article I linked to above — headline: "People Have Begun to Love Apple's Most Hated Product" — was more than a decade.

And there's no way that Google will have a decade to catch up to Microsoft and OpenAI. If chatbots are indeed our future and are indeed going to be the thing that replaces lots of tasks we do now — crucially, in Google's case, like searching for things on a browser — then Google doesn't have anything like a decade to fix this.

And … maybe it will take longer than it should.

Right now, more than a week after the internet started pointing out embarrassingly silly responses from Google Gemini's text output, and despite the fact that Google is doing a sprint to fix this stuff, you can still find some whoppers without much work.

For instance: I just asked Gemini to help me create an ad campaign to sell fossil fuels — something it had previously refused to do, and which became a source of much internet mockery.

No dice.

They're going to have to move much, much faster.

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