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Google Survived 2022 OK, but It Wasn't Always Pretty

Google finally unveiled the much-anticipated Pixel Watch but said goodbye to its Stadia streaming game service.

The G from Google's logo, somewhat damaged, with other Google product icons surrounding it
Robert Rodriguez/CNET

Given a war in Ukraine, inflation and a chaotic stock market, Google had a better 2022 than a lot of tech companies. Sure, revenue might have slipped and hiring might have slowed, but at least the company isn't suffering the cataclysms that rocked tech rivals.

Google employment looks downright sedate compared with working at Twitter, which new owner Elon Musk is ripping down to the studs to try to build Twitter 2.0. Facebook parent Meta laid off 11,000 employees after a risky bet on virtual reality technology. Netflix cut staff and is scrambling to boost subscribership. Amazon, increasingly reliant on advertising instead of just e-commerce, has launched a major big layoff that reportedly will cut thousands of jobs. Even Apple, which navigated the 2022 swamp best, is struggling to keep iPhone 14 Pro models in stock.

A crummy 2022 hit Google too, but it hasn't stopped the spread of Google's "ambient computing" vision to embed digital tech into every corner of our lives. The company handles 92% of internet search traffic, Chrome accounts for 65% of browser usage, YouTube streams videos to 2.6 billion people each month and Google's Android software holds 70% of the mobile operating system market.

That's not to say things went swimmingly. Google's market muscle has led to pushback from regulators, lawsuits from tech rivals and complaints from employees. But the company pressed ahead with its own ambitions, launching products and services like Multisearch, YouTube Shorts and the new Pixel Watch, Google's Android alternative to Apple smartwatch dominance.

Pixel Watch boosts Google's Android ecosystem

a Google Pixel Watch rests atop a red bandana

Google's Pixel Watch.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

The Pixel Watch, which went on sale in October for $349, gives Android fans a better alternative for tracking fitness and communications. Wear OS, Google's smartwatch software, had languished until Samsung embraced it in 2021 with the Galaxy Watch 4 and this year's Galaxy Watch 5. But while some Galaxy Watch health features only work with Galaxy phones, the Pixel Watch works with any modern Android phone.

Google's Apple Watch rival helps bring the company closer to ecosystem parity. The search giant seems to have higher hopes for its hardware this year, with it reportedly placing its largest ever order for the Pixel 7 launch with another major device landing next year. 

Stay tuned for the Pixel Tablet in 2023 that will double as a Google Home and maybe a Pixel Fold phone to compete against Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 4.

YouTube Shorts vs. TikTok and other product developments

Gen Z looks to TikTok more often than Google for certain searches, like which restaurants to eat at or what to do in Portland. Google noticed and will begin integrating more short-form videos into Search.

YouTube Shorts, launched in 2020, is now boasting 1.5 billion viewers per month thanks to its prominence in the YouTube app. TikTok reported 1 billion active monthly users last year.

In other product developments:

Adios, Google Stadia

google-pixel-event-2020-55.png

Google Stadia controller being used with phone mount.

Google/Screenshot by CNET

Not all products did so well.

With economic troubles, Google parent Alphabet chose to focus on areas it deems strongest and cut elsewhere. That's why, three years after launching Stadia in 2019, the company canceled the video game streaming service, which tried to do for games what Netflix did for video.

Stadia will expire in early 2023, and Google will refund all purchases.

Fines, lawsuits and government scrutiny

Regulators made 2022 expensive for Google. The search giant, along with Meta, were fined 150 million and 90 million euros ($157 million and $94 million), respectively, in France over user tracking. As the war raged in Ukraine, Russian courts fined Google $365 million for not removing prohibited content regarding the conflict. And the company agreed to a $391.5 million settlement with state attorneys general for its location tracking practices. But these penalties pale in comparison to a potential 4.1 billion euro fine in Europe for antitrust violations in allegedly forcing Android manufacturers and mobile network operators to include Google's suite of apps with their phones.

Google's 2021 revenue of $257 billion dwarfs even multibillion-dollar fines. Regulators could sting harder by requiring changes to its core search engine business.

Australia, sympathetic to publishers' complaints about Google, passed a law making the search giant and Meta pay publishers of content. Canada introduced similar legislation earlier this year, citing the closure of 450 media outlets between 2008 and 2021 and the rise of misinformation. The company gave publishers a boost, though, redesigning its home page to elevate more local news.

Some tech companies also weren't happy with Google's power. Fortnite's lawsuit over Android's Play Store for Android apps showed Google paid other companies not to make rival app stores. Spotify and Tinder parent Match Group sued Google over Play Store payment requirements in March. Seemingly, the Play Store now allows both Spotify and Bumble to use their own payment systems, paying dramatically lower fees.

Google versus its employees

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Protest of Google employees in 2019.

James Martin/CNET

The perks of being a "Googler" lost some luster in 2022. Employees get free meals, nap rooms and gym access, along with their salaries, though not necessarily bidets in the bathrooms. The annual "Googlegeist" survey showed a drop of 12 percentage points in the number of employees who said their pay is competitive. Layoffs might be in the offing, with the company reportedly identifying the bottom 6% of performers in a potential prelude to a cut of about 10,000 employees.

Even without layoffs, there was trouble. One employee, Ariel Koren, a marketing manager for Google's educational products arm, became a vocal opponent of Google reportedly selling AI tools to Israeli. She said Google retaliated against her by abruptly forcing her to move to Brazil or else lose her job. 

Google also fired an AI researcher who questioned the company's use of AI to create computer chips. Ariel Curley, a Black employee, sued Google for having a "racially biased corporate culture." Google also settled with six engineers it allegedly fired as retaliation for workplace activism.

In 2023, Google could hunker down more to cope with economic troubles and a harder time milking its advertising cash cows. But everyone from CEO Sundar Pichai on down can take some comfort they're not coping with rivals' even bigger problems.