The turning point was Page taking the reins and actively addressing team collaboration in design, and hiring some brilliant designers, such as Matias Duarte (I linked to a great profile article of his a few weeks ago). Google has successfully addressed one of the major issues with their products. They now make the most functional and aesthetically pleasing services to use on all platforms, with the backend engineering to deliver.
“White space. Cards. Clean typography. And a simple, consistent interface to access Google’s boundless power. These are the most recognizable elements in Google’s new library of design elements–the main phrases in what the company calls its common design language. Where only a few years ago you would have struggled to see any pattern in Google’s designs, now these four elements serve as the firm’s signature. When you spot them, you know you’re in a Google app.”