Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

With 120M Users, Google Drive Gets Tighter Integration With Gmail

Eighteen months after it first debuted, Google Drive has 120 million active users. Today, it is launching additional features that bring it closer to the heart of Gmail, Google’s first and most-used productivity app.

A sketch for the design of the new Google Drive integration in Gmail

Image courtesy of Google A sketch for the design of the new Google Drive integration in Gmail

“We’re trying to unify the file experience across Google and then beyond,” said Scott Johnston, a director of product management at Google. “The key for us is that attachments are the highest form of sharing in the electronic world. So, how do you take attachments and build a bridge to the rest of the experience?”

Until now, Gmail users on the Web would have to download the files attached to their emails and then re-upload them to add them to their Google Drive accounts — a strange and awkward experience given that Google controls both services. Now, they’ll have the option to directly save attachments to Drive, and preview them in a lightbox where they’ll be selectable and searchable.

It’s basically how files already work on iOS and Android; the new launch extends that experience to the desktop. And further, the previews will work for photos, videos, spreadsheets and PDFs, and users will be able to flip through batches of attachments from within the original email. But people will still have to switch over to Google Drive if they actually want to edit the documents.

GoogleDriveGmail

Attached images as they’ll appear in the new Gmail-Google Drive integration

Drive is a funny product. On the one hand, for Google to launch a cloud storage service in 2012 seemed to perfectly exemplify the so-called Microsoftization of Google — it was late to market, followed after competition and piggybacked on usage of Google’s adjacent products. On the other hand, Drive is at the core of Google’s expertise: processing gobs of content and making it accessible.

Johnston stressed that his team is a fast-moving one, having made some 150 feature changes to Drive since it launched last year (though that’s one of those impossible-to-grok stats, for an outsider), and adding design and user experience expertise.

“Larry and Sundar [Page and Pichai, respectively, Google's CEO and head of apps] want us to focus on polish and design,” Johnston said. “The original apps were utilitarian, but miss some of the polish and the beauty. It’s a culture change. Obsessing about pixels — that doesn’t come naturally to our engineers.”

So is it working? Is 120 million an impressive stat? Yes, but it’s not as though there are simple easy apples-to-apples comparisons to make for personal cloud storage services. The last publicly available Google Drive user stat was old and much smaller: 10 million in June 2012, two months after it launched.

As for competition, Dropbox had 175 million registered users as of July, when Apple reported that iCloud had 320 million accounts, and around the time Microsoft said SkyDrive had 250 million users. But none of those companies say how many of those users actively use the service on a monthly basis. So, credit for Google for not using an inflated metric.

(And further, Johnston noted that his team only counts people who use Google Drive on purpose. “A Gmail user just clicking over wouldn’t count,” he said. That seems in contrast to the Google+ team, which often seems to get caught throwing around numbers justified by creative accounting.)

“The space itself is at this point of explosion, so competition is less relevant than it normally is,” Johnston argued. “At a high level, the competition is not Drive itself — there’s a suite of applications, platform, even the hardware. The competition is about the package, and less about individual apps.”


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