Google cuts half of its experimental Area 120 division projects
Google CEO Sundar Pichai seems to be on a cost-cutting mission. After he said that the company’s productivity was “not where it needs to be” in July, Google axed the Google Hardware laptop division and spun off what was left of Project Loon to try to survive as an independent company. The latest move is aimed at Google Area 120 “idea incubator” group, which Bloomberg reports is being cut by half.
Area 120 launched in 2016. The motto on the group’s website says, “At Area 120, we work on 20% projects 100% of the time.” Google gives employees 20 percent free time to work on interesting projects, and it sounds like if they land on a good idea, Area 120 spins up a group project around it.
We’ve mentioned the group a few times here at Ars, mostly for the “Google Reply” experiment that brought AI-generated quick replies to any instant messaging service. Reply was openly called an “experiment” and was a real hack job of an app, but today, the feature is a standard part of Android, so that counts as a big success. A project management app, called “Tables,” was successful enough that Google is working on a full Google Workspace app based on the idea. GameSnacks, an Area 120 HTML5 game platform for users in developing countries with low bandwidth, has over 35 million users.
Bloomberg reports that “some teams at Area 120 were notified this week that their projects had been reorganized or canceled.” The outlet spoke to some of the affected employees and said that “one of the people estimated that half of the teams at Area 120 had been affected,” and these people will need to find other work inside Google. In response to the report, a Google spokesperson admitted that “Area 120 is winding down several projects to make way for new work” and that the group will “be shifting its focus to projects that build on Google’s deep investment in AI and have the potential to solve important user problems.”
Area 120 was reorganized only a year ago, when it was sucked into the newly created “Google Labs” division under veteran Googler Clay Bavor. The Labs team handles Google’s AR and VR work, and it even has a blockchain project. There’s no word if any of Google’s other experimental work is being shut down as part of the cost-cutting initiative, but it seems like this sort of news is now coming at a fairly reliable pace.
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