Google’s Shopping Spree

Hot on the heels of the Writely acquisition, Google announced on tuesday (14th Mar 2006) that they have bought SketchUp.

This time, though, the acquired product is a commercial software, currently selling for a whopping US$495. They do offer a free trial version, but it is rather severly crippled with one of the shortest trial periods I have ever seen (it stops working after 8 hours).

I did not have the time (and frankly, neither the inclination) to get any hands-on experience with the trial, but it does look like an interesting piece of software from what I can gather from the screenshots, descriptions, feature lists, and user reviews.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the official website, explaining what SketchUp is:

What is SketchUp?

SketchUp is a deceptively simple, amazingly powerful tool for creating, viewing, and modifying 3D ideas quickly and easily. SketchUp was developed to combine the elegance and spontaneity of pencil sketching with the speed and flexibility of today’s digital media.

Developed for the conceptual stages of design, this powerful yet easy-to-learn software allows for quick and easy 3D form creation, the result is an interface that supports a dynamic, creative exploration of 3D form, material and light.

SketchUp combines a compact yet robust tool-set with an intelligent guidance system that streamlines the 3D drawing process.

So, basically, it is a user-friendly tool for quickly “sketching up” 3D models, almost as intuitively as drawing a sketch on a piece of paper.

But why would Google want this software? The answer is most probably two-fold:

  • It is extremely easy for any user to quickly pick it up and draw simple buildings
  • SketchUp has a robust plugin that integrates well with Google Earth (also see Wikipedia entry)

If you don’t know what Google Earth is, it is a free 3D graphics application through which you can view aerial photography and satellite images of almost every major location on earth. Due to the nature of these licensed images, most locations are quite outdated, while not a few of them are totally non-existant. That’s where SketchUp can come in.

 

By offering a “lite” version of SketchUp (or maybe renamed as something like “Google Sketch”) for free, the existing millions of enthusiastic Google Earth users can draw up and add the missing landmarks and buildings. Google Earth already has a vibrant community that creates countless plugins, so this possibility should not be too far-fetched.

Considering that Google Earth also offers “Plus” and “Pro” versions costing from US$20 a year to US$400 a year, they might also offer more powerful versions of SketchUp to these paying users. Or they might even choose to offer this service exclusively to paying users, although I think that would seem out-of-sync with the typical Google Philosophy of “Do No Evil”.

All in all, I say this was a good buy, with excellent synergy potential as well as ROI (Return-on-Investment).

So, where is Google’s next stop on this shopping spree?

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