There was a time when, to avoid repeating the company name again and again, you could refer to Google as “the search giant”, but those days are fading fast. For sure, revenue wise, search is still the company’s cash cow, with paid search results accounting for 96 per cent of the company’s revenues. But if you look at the announcements coming out of Wednesday’s I/O developer conference, it becomes clear that there are few areas of modern life that Google is not looking to own.
We had Android One for emerging markets; Android L to unify the user experience across all screens; Android Wear for wearable tech; Android Auto for in-car; Google Fit for the connected health sector; and Android TV for the living room. Added to these announcements, of course, Google also has Project Loon to connect the unconnected in places where there’s no cellular or fixed line broadband coverage. And it has made its home automation intentions pretty clear with the $3.2bn purchase of Nest.
Of course, not everything Google tries works. Android TV is its second attempt to colonise the living room after the original Google TV failed to catch on. Google Health launched in 2008, and was killed at the end of 2011. Other Google fails include Wave, Google Answers and Google Audio Ads for radio. All failed to catch the public’s imagination, and these are just a few of the things that Google has tried that didn’t work out.
But as anyone with any knowledge of how disruption works will tell you, the last thing failure is a sign of is, er, failure. Much more logical to see it as a sign of company that is not afraid to try stuff and that, thanks to that search engine cash cow, has almost unlimited funds to chuck at the R&D process. For every Google project that bites the dust, there’s an Android or a Google Maps that not only resonates with consumers, but actually captivates them.
Of course, Google will not have things all its own way. Apple, in particular, also has designs on the home, the car, and users' health. And let’s not forget the other members of the GAFA gang, Facebook, which has been buying up anything that moves, and Amazon, which made its entry into the smartphone market with the launch of the Fire last week.
If pushed however, I would say that of the four, Google is in the best position to control, well, the world really, when you look at everything it's into. Facebook, in essence, is a global meeting place. Amazon is a shop. Apple makes cool stuff that its users love with a rare passion. And Google, what does Google do? It’s becoming increasingly hard to say. The core business, the one that generates all the money, chugs along in the background, seemingly impervious to the charms or threats of any competition. Leaving the rest of the brainiacs to spend their days dreaming up driverless cars, broadband blimps, and whatever else they think might change the world for the better.
The only threat to Google’s dominance of all these random bits of our lives, ironically, so far as I can see, is if someone invents a better search engine, and so far, there are no signs of that happening. For all the weird and wonderful stuff that Google’s engineers dream up, there’s clearly still a large part of the company dedicated to protecting its core business and revenue stream that funds all the other stuff. And for that alone, you have to admire them.