Google+ Not Yet Ready For Business

Last week, Google unveiled Google+, its latest attempt (following Wave and Buzz) at crafting a social networking platform potent enough to lure users away from Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, Twitter).  Though Google+ is still in an early beta phase—registration is currently closed, so prospective users will have to wait for the G to re-open its gates sometime in the near future—it seems like this may be Mountain View’s big push into the social networking arena.  While the future success of Google+ will largely be determined by whether users embrace the new platform—either in lieu of Facebook, or as a supplement to it—we’re most concerned with how Google+ might enable small businesses to enhance their sales and online presence.

This is a big question, especially since Facebook’s offerings for businesses are somewhat limited; through Facebook, businesses can directly advertise to particular demographic groups, and/or create company profile pages, which users can then “like,” and follow.  These limitations aren’t particularly surprising, as Facebook’s initial imperative focused on providing social connectivity features for individual users, allowing the site to build a critical mass of users, from which, it was hoped, profits would somehow follow.

By contrast, Google is building its platform long after achieving significant mind-share amongst the world’s Web-enabled citizens; as a result, it’s probably safe to surmise that commercial considerations and companies’ needs were given high consideration throughout the Google+ development process.  Indeed, Google has pro-actively assured small business owners that they will soon be able to create company “Pages” on the new platform, while also asserting that “initially we wanted to make sure that we optimized for the individual use case…[b]uilding great consumer products is a necessary prerequisite for compelling business products.”  Sure, Google knows that it has to attract users before the platform will have any real value for businesses and advertisers, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t planning for the future.  For instance, Nexus 4G users have found that the Google+ mobile app features NFC integration: Though the NFC functionality is currently quite limited, Google is likely planning to integrate its Google+ NFC tech with its recent Google Wallet and Google Offers NFC-based mobile applications (you can check out our previous coverage of Google Wallet here), which could provide some really innovative new ways for businesses to build relationships with their customers.

As it stands now, Google+ doesn’t really have much to offer small businesses, with Google (rightfully) focusing on building out a sufficiently large user base before inviting commercial interests to the party.  Of course, Google’s investment in this platform isn’t altruistic, it’s commercial, and when all the various pieces are considered as a whole, it seems as though Google is on the cusp of offering a fully integrated system that will combine features of Yelp, Foursquare, Groupon, Facebook, and Twitter, powered by a combination of mobile and desktop devices, and utilizing NFC technology at every possible turn.  There’s a lot of promise here for small business owners, let’s just hope there’s enough user adoption for these services to come to fruition.

Apple ditches MobileMe, introduces iCloud at exciting price point: free

Although Apple’s cloud services have been rumored for years, no real information has surfaced before today about exactly what to expect. But at their Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) today, Apple announced that they’re going cloud in a big way: starting this fall, MoibleMe (a paid service to synchronize your mail, contacts, and calendar) will be replaced by a new, free service called iCloud.

What is iCloud? At a basic level, it’s a replacement for all of the services that MobileMe used to cover: iCloud provides free synchronization for your Mail, Calendars and Contacts through new applications that push your updates to any iOS devices you may own, including the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Similarly, App Store and iBookstore purchases are now automatically synchronized between multiple devices. What does that mean for you? Hassle-free work from the field, with the same calendar and mail set-up on your phone or tablet (provided those phones and tablets are the iPhone and iPad!)

The real win for small business users comes in the form of document sync, however. Last week, Apple announced that their iWork suite of apps, including Pages, Numbers and Keynote, we’re being ported to work not just on the iPad but also the iPhone and iPod touch. These apps, for those who aren’t familiar, are Apple’s answers to Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, respectively.

Today Apple is announcing that their iWork suite of apps will allow document sync through their iCloud service, with 5GB free storage for documents. While 5GB isn’t a huge amount of storage for music or pictures, it translates into thousands of documents sync’d seamlessly across your devices. For users on the go, this may finally make Apple’s iWork suite of software a viable alternative to Microsoft’s suite of desktop software or even Google Documents.

A few other features of note: Apple is also announcing iBackup, a feature that securely backs up your iOS devices over Wi-Fi whenever you charge your devices. Not only are your apps, books, and music backed up, but also your device settings. This should make things easier for users upgrading from the iPad to the iPad 2, or from the iPhone 4 to whatever comes next from Apple. As well, it should relieve some stress from users worried about having to connect their iPad or iPhone to their computer via USB every time they want to manually backup their devices.

Other things like photo sync and iTunes in the cloud offer services to sync your photographs and music between devices, and you can read the full details in Apple’s press release.