Google's next act: Diversify and conquer

Center stage at this year's Google I/O was a company honing its vision for a future beyond search

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Page 2 of 2's Grunwerg feels the same way -- that Google's vision is to become "the artificial intelligence that can help people in their everyday lives." He admitted such a total vision was "probably five to 10 years in the making, but in order to offer a more personalized service, Google knows the mobile strategy is key."

Which brings us to the one forthcoming part of the mobile strategy that everyone is wondering about: Google Glass. The buzz over Glass splits into two camps -- those who think it's revolutionary, and those who think it's overrated. But few disagree that it will be a major attention-getter for Google.

Pan believes Glass has the potential to follow Apple's iPod success story, but at the same time constitutes a giant wild card. "When Apple created the iPod, it had features users didn't know they wanted -- a simpler user interface. The same was true with iPhones and iPads -- touch display screens. Glass is one of those projects, but it's too early to tell if a wired lifestyle is what we want," Pan says.

Google's other goal with Glass, in his purview, is to harvest information from the real world and index it for search. "Once people document their whole lives on Glass, Google may have access to search your history archive for moments of your life," Pan says. This doesn't bode well for those who already have privacy worries about Google, he admits.

Politis sees Glass as "the hedge for the longer-term play" toward wearable computing in one form or another. "[It's] the same idea as the Chromebook Pixel. They're prototypes, proofs of concept built by Google to show the world what is possible. Glass isn't a move to [make Google] a hardware company, but a way to integrate all [its] existing products [Google+, Drive, and so on] and be the leading force in wearable computing."

Grunwerg thinks of Glass as potentially momentous as the early home PC or telephone. "It's the first big step toward virtual reality becoming a part of everyday lives, and who knows how this could transform the video games market," Grunwerg says. He was also sure, though, that even Google didn't fully understand its own product's potential -- and perhaps the developers who have been granted early access to the product will help suss it out.

The same long-term play approach certainly applies to other Google projects, such as its self-driving car, which has already hit the road in limited deployments. Even if it doesn't become widely embraced by the public -- which seems unlikely, given how many people resent their daily commutes -- the AI research derived from the project may well apply to any number of other innovations that have nothing to do with driving or cars.

ConclusionsThe one takeaway about Google circa 2013 is that no one thing the company does is ever an end in itself. Android and Chrome OS are extensions of Google's mobile strategy, which are in turn extensions of its ad-delivery platform. Each feeds into the other.

The other development that's becoming more evident is how Google has been moving its Labs-style experiments away from their servers and into the real world. This has been happening for some time in many ways, though not always with predictable results: The company's mapping of streets via automated cars stepped on more than a few legal and personal toes. To that end, Google Glass may be just as experimental for Google as it is for us -- a way to see not only what's technically feasible but socially acceptable and legal, and why.

Given how daring and boundary-pushing (and feather-ruffling) its experiments can become, Google may only be able to monetize a part of the future work it does in this space by using it to support its ad-and-search system. But from everything we've seen, it's clear that's going to be the first and most powerful way Google will try to make the vast majority of its future innovations pay off for a long time to come.

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This story, "Google's next act: Diversify and conquer" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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