Google Products I Can’t Stop Using

5 years ago this post likely would’ve been on the shortlist of Google products I didn’t use since, as an Android and Chromebook user, I leveraged their offerings for pretty much everything from email to navigation and anything in between. My opinion on Google has shifted dramatically over the years, though, as Google’s previous position as the “good” tech company has become further and further from reality. (Having “Don’t be evil” in their code of conduct is mildly hilarious.) Their absolutely heinous privacy practices and abuse of the data they collect on users has given me the goal of avoiding Google’s suite whenever possible. This isn’t, of course, to say that other big tech companies aren’t doing the exact same thing to varying degrees, but I at least feel like others are less… flagrant about it.

When given the chance, I now opt to use the service I need outside of the big tech companies, such as using ProtonMail for my email. Where that sort of solution isn’t feasible, I usually try to pick the lowest common denominator between Apple and Microsoft. Even mentioning Microsoft here is a bit amusing to me since, back when I was in college, I had a pretty solid dislike for them, not unlike my outlook on Google now (no pun intended.) I think the company under the helm of Satya Nadella has really turned things around from the Ballmer era, though.

All that being said, there are just a few Google products I haven’t been able to find a good alternative to that I continue to use, much to my chagrin. If I had made this post just a few months ago it would’ve included even more, but from a feature perspective the competition is closing the gap on a few fronts. I’m hoping that trend continues.

YouTube

YouTube is, more or less, unrivaled when it comes to user-provided video content. While alternatives like Vimeo exist, the user base isn’t even close. Fewer users, less content, less reason to be there on the regular. All of the major video-based content creators I follow typically have their content in 2 places:

  1. Twitch.tv for live streams
  2. YouTube for on-demand videos

The content I consume on YouTube runs the gamut from technology to music to gaming and everything in between. I haven’t been able to find the same breadth of video content anywhere else, and — as much as I hate to admit it — the YouTube algorithm has become pretty good at figuring out what new content I’m likely to enjoy from accounts that I’m not following yet.

Given that I consume a half decent amount of content on Twitch, I hoped between the combination of mobile apps and my Fire TV stick that I could maybe replace YouTube with it, but the fact is that the Twitch video player is… not good. If I missed watching something live, it’s a much better experience to hop over to YouTube and check out the recording there as opposed to struggling with the Twitch video player.

Maps

Google Maps is interesting because I don’t use it on my phone, which for many people is likely the primary place where they’d want to have a map. When I need navigation, though, I’m typically just using Apple Maps, as I mentioned in my Apple Watch post. While being pretty important, directions aren’t the only useful thing that a mapping solution can provide. The one Google has that no one else has been able to pull off yet is telling me how busy an establishment is:

How busy a local bar is on a Monday evening.

As a card carrying introvert, I really dislike going places that are packed. That was the case pre-pandemic, and it’s only been made worse by a global health crisis. If I’m thinking about heading out to a bar or restaurant, I’ll typically hop over to Google Maps first to get a feel for how busy it might be. If things look crowded, I may opt to go somewhere else instead.

The irony of this is that the information being provided is only good if a lot of people are using Google Maps on their phones for it to report accurate information. While I hate the fact that the ubiquity of Google Maps is what allows this feature to work — and likely plays a role in why other mapping solutions haven’t offered it — I guess I may as well take advantage of the information if it’s there.

Play Books

For the most part, ebook reading apps are pretty much all the same. They may have different font options, color schemes, dynamic themes, etc., but at the end of the day they all let you read ebooks. The big thing that has set Play Books apart from others, though, is how easily it allows me to upload my own PDF or EPUB files to its platform. Those books are now in Google’s cloud, giving me the benefit of being able to read them on any browser or iPad that I happen to have within reach. Likewise, my reading progress is in sync across all of those devices, so I’m not left trying to keep track of my place. I tend to buy a decent number of DRM free ebooks from places like No Starch Press and Manning, and the first thing I usually do after downloading my new reading material is immediately re-upload it to Play Books.

Kindle will kind of let me do this by sending an email to a special email address with my ebook attached, but it’s been clunky enough that I haven’t made much use of it despite the fact that Kindle is my go-to reading app for ebooks I’ve purchased or rented. It’s tough to beat a simple Upload button.

That’s the extend of my Google product usage. When discussing this, most people are surprised that I’m not using either of:

  1. Google search
  2. Chrome

I really thought that Google search was going to be more difficult to give up than it was considering how much time I spend searching the web for work. Between DuckDuckGo and Brave Search, I’ve not really had difficulty in finding the information I need without crawling back to Google.

While folks are often surprised that I don’t use Chrome, I’m conversely surprised that so many people still use Chrome, though I suspect inertia has a lot to do with it. In my opinion it’s become a fairly bloated browser that does worse than most others with respect to system resources and battery life. The real benefit of using Chrome is that, due to its dominant market share, pretty much every website is most definitely going to render and function properly in Chrome; it’s basically like the second coming of Internet Explorer 6. That’s not much of a reason to use Chrome, though, since you can simply install a different, better Chromium-based browser like Brave or Vivaldi instead.