Google signals the end of Labs

Google has announced that it is to close its Google Labs arm in the latest of a string of cutbacks that the company claims represents an attempt at "prioritising our product efforts."

When Google announced that it was closing many of its application programming interfaces - including the popular Translate API, which is used to by developers who need to introduce machine translation services into their applications and sites - it caused something of a furore, but this latest announcement looks like being one of Google's least popular yet.

"Last week we explained that we're prioritising our product efforts," senior vice president for research Bill Coughran writes on the Official Google Blog. "As part of that process, we've decided to wind down Google Labs. While we've learned a huge amount by launching very early prototypes in Labs, we believe that greater focus is crucial if we’re to make the most of the extraordinary opportunities ahead."

Google Labs has long been a proving ground for services and applications developed by Googlers on their '20 per cent time,' the one day of the week that they are allowed to work on their own projects without the oversight of management. Many popular Google services have been born out of that scheme: Gmail was originally a 20 per cent project.

Currently, Labs plays host to a variety of projects from Google Listen - a podcast downloader for Android - to the recently-launched Swiffy - a tool to convert Adobe Flash content to HTML5 - but the future of such projects is far from certain.

"In many cases, this will mean ending Labs experiments," Coughran admits. "In others we’ll incorporate Labs products and technologies into different product areas."

While Coughran claims that in-product Labs features - such as the Labs sections of Gmail and Google Maps, which allow extra functionality that hasn't been fully approved for use in the final product to be toggled - won't be going away and that any Labs products that are Android-based will continue to be available in the Android market, the announcement has many worried about the future of innovation at the company.

While projects like the social sharing service Google+ show that the company is still keen to try new things, the closure of Google Labs marks a definite end to an era.