Google And Hardware

Image representing Larry Page as depicted in C...
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Google has been a software company. The king of search sits at the center of all things web. I love Google like some people love Apple. When it first came out I remember embedding the Google search engine on my personal homepage which was hosted on Yahoo’s hot domain Geocities, by now defunct. I have watched it as it has grown. It has been amazing to me that although Google has become big, like really big, it has not stopped innovating. When small innovative companies become big, they slow down. But when Google became big it just started innovating at large scales, it simply started tackling large problems that only the resourceful can.

Social came after search and it can be argued Facebook got that one. But mobile came after social and Google’s Android rules the roost. Big Data is widely perceived as one of the next big things and Google seems well positioned for that phase as well. Robotics is all the rage and Google is making acquisitions left and right.

We have all heard of driverless cars and Google Glass. The Glass is already here, the car is only a few years away. One thing you notice real quick is the dominant software company in the world – used to be Microsoft in the Windows era – is fast becoming a hardware company.

Only a few years back Google was so adamant about staying away from hardware that when it felt vendors were not doing right by its smartphone concept, it brought forth the Nexus line of phones but under the aegis of outside vendors. Even the acquisition of the phone company Motorola was a compulsion. Google really wanted the patents Motorola had to dig in with Android that was being attacked on all sides, primarily by Apple. I never thought Steve Jobs had a case. You can’t copyright the Personal Computer concept, and you can’t copyright the smartphone concept.

But by now the reluctance is gone and Google is unabashed about being a hardware company. What happened? I think what happened was it is not like Google one day decided to give Dell a run for the money and started building PCs as well. What happened was smartness caught up with hardware. Minus the smartness hardware was pretty much junk to Google. But with the smarts every inch of hardware can feel like software. It is the difference between a tongue and a thumb. The tongue, it can be argued, is smart, it is sensitive.

Just like Big Data is right round the corner, the Internet Of Things is right round the corner. And that Internet Of Things is all about smart hardware. Your smoke alarm is smart, your refrigerator is smart, your garage door is smart, your toaster is smart, your car sure is smart. You end up with a smart home. You know the difference between a dumb phone and a smart phone. Extrapolate that and you get the idea. Your home currently is a dumb home.

It is not a sure thing that Google will dominate the next big things like it has dominated search and mobile. But it sure has a clear shot at it. It is poised to be one of the dominant names in both Big Data and the Internet Of Things. As to if will be the top name, the dominant name, that question is up in the air. It is usually extremely hard for the company that dominated one phase of innovation to also dominate the next one. Microsoft dominated the PC, but it did not go on to dominate the web.

It is amazing to me that Larry Page is no Steve Jobs. Larry Page hardly ever makes news, but Google is in the news on a daily basis. Steve Jobs was a dominant personality made for the media. Page stays in the background. But Page’s footprint will likely end up larger at the end of the day, perhaps substantially larger. I think Apple’s best days are behind it, but Google just might end up becoming the world’s first trillion dollar company. But if it does, it will have to hit that mark before 2020. It not, it will have missed it.

That is an interesting proposition because we are living through a time when the relationship between the state and the individual is being redefined. Companies like Google are all about empowering the individual all over the world. All Google users are global citizens at some level, to some degree.

Steve Jobs of course started out his journey saying you have to do both software and hardware. He was proven wrong as Microsoft took the lead by being a purely software company. And then he was proven right as Apple overtook Microsoft in market value on the strength of its iPhone sales. Perhaps the PC was not the right vehicle for the vision. Only a smartphone accorded that fusion.

Robotics should move from the science fiction space to our living rooms in a few short years. Amazon wants to deliver your orders with drones that will fly from their warehouses to our front yards. Giants like Google and Amazon are already competing in that robotics space.

So, yes, the number one software company in the world, Google, now is working to become also the top hardware company in the world. Where does that put Samsung?
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