Google Plunges into Video Conferencing and the Internet of Things

That company in the heart of Silicon Valley with the multi-colored logo has been extremely busy these days, haven’t they? Looking at their activity in the last month Google has made three widely broadcast moves that can be interpreted as full company expansion. Let’s take a look at what’s happened and attempt to connect the dots to see where this giant of the IT world might be headed.

Nest-Cooling-2As the old saying goes, it all begins at home…with Nest. I couldn’t quite grasp the tizzy the A/V world was sent into when the Google/Nest purchase was first announced. I heard theories that ranged from, “Google is going to use this to mine for data about how people behaved in their home environments,” to the idea that this was Google’s entry into household control. I had a hard time buying any of that. At the time, I wrote a blog that said it was too early to determine exactly what Google wanted that Nest had. Silicon Valley is generating a near weekly notice about one company consuming another, but the thing that made this purchase stand out more than any other was the dollar value. When we examine what exactly Google got out of the purchase we find three major components: talent, patents, and the two hardware devices for the home. It is well known that Google has a habit of purchasing companies and then watching the product die on the vine or picking and choosing components of it to assimilate into their empire. When we add that knowledge to their public statement that they have every intention of letting Nest continue to run as an independent entity, I’m still left with my original theory: Google made this purchase for patents or talent. The fact that Google will have the ability to pair these home thermostats and carbon dioxide/smoke detectors with their Android OS is very cool for what could come, but there’s a massive leap between monitoring and adjusting temperature and a fully integrated home. As this is Google, I could see them getting there in a few years but only if they choose to head down that route.

Google’s next move was to sell off the mobile portion of Motorola to Lenovo. The Motorola mobile division is not the powerhouse in mobile devices it once was but even with a decreased device offering still performed well in 2013. This sale further reinforces my theory that Google is a company that is more interested in patents and talent it can acquire rather than the products that a given company brings to the table and is not looking to become a control systems company. Google’s biggest strength in the mobile market is the Android OS platform because it exists across multiple manufacturers of mobile devices. Gordon Kelly wrote a fantastic piece for Forbes on the topic that has a subtle notion to it that Google isn’t trying to be Apple. If they had wanted to be an OS developer and a hardware provider they could have locked all the other manufacturers out of the Android OS very easily, but they didn’t. Google used the Motorola Mobile division as an almost idle threat to keep Samsung in line with how it treated the Android OS on its devices. This has since been resolved between the two tech giants with their global patent agreement. It can be said that as the Android OS is hardware androgynous then any device can be the end user interface for the home control system that Google may, or may not, be working towards. This fact alone will continue to feed the fires of conspiracies that Google will expand into the home control market. However, as their habits have shown in the past to point to a self-serving company that’s more interested in control over its own properties, I will continue to be speculative that Google is after control of my house.

chromeboxThe final move was last week’s announcement of the Google Chromebox for Meetings. As an avid user and fan of the Chromecast, I saw this move as the most significant in the long run, but oddly less people seemed “up in arms” over it than the purchase of Nest. This new Chromebox for Meetings gives Google a matching hardware piece (manufactured by Dell, HP, and ASUS) that will utilize the already popular ‘Hangouts’ web conferencing tool as well as other Google apps. For $1000 retail they will provide you with a local PC, a 1080p webcam, and a microphone/speaker unit that will integrate seamlessly into the Chrome universe. Google is actively targeting the “ease of use” marketplace, and that was never more apparent than the comment made during the initial release presentation by Ceasar Sengupta when he called web conferencing “too complicated for most regular uses.” In the AVWeek webcast on 2/8 (using Google Hangouts), I compared this to the Bose effect. Google has gone after the end users with the ease of use theory in their home, and now is branching out on the idea that if they are so easy to use, and you enjoy the product so much in your home, why not put the same easy to use interface in your company meeting rooms? With the popularity of huddle rooms that we currently see throughout corporate A/V environments, this Chromebox for meetings is a great solution. But the damaging part of it for the A/V industry will be when people start to believe that this is a ‘one size fits all’ solution, and nowhere is Google addressing that. They are selling the idea of a quick and easy solution for all your web conference needs without putting in the stipulation that there are limitations to the environment where this unit will be successful and that a professional should be consulted.

So Google now has a remote controlled thermostat and carbon monoxide/smoke detector, has sold off a property that made mobile hardware, and is partnering with three hardware manufacturers to provide the next generation of equipment for your small room conferencing needs. What’s the connection? Your guess is as good as mine. Google is clearly demonstrating a desire to expand and start being a player in parts of the technology world they aren’t dominating just yet. The little aside in all of this is something I discussed with fellow A/V professional Chris Neto when the Nest purchase first came up: What is Google’s whole purpose with all of their developments? They are a data mining company. While the Nest purchase could potentially allow them to monitor people’s habits of when they are home and general comfort levels of temperature, there isn’t a whole lot of other mining that could really evolve from that. However, by basing their Chromebox for meetings around the Hangouts platform, they are pushing people into a situation where they will be required to adopt the Google+/YouTube/Gmail product grouping. This, in turn, could finally start to advance the Google+ platform to the point of being a dominant social/professional media network, just not in the way that was originally theorized. At first the chatter around Google+ was that it was going to be a Facebook competitor, but with the massive investment that Google has made in the Hangouts portion of the product, we are starting to see that Google is after an easier way for us to all connect, so long as it goes through them. On the plus side, this continues the push to having our lives resemble The Jetsons where our any of our display devices become how we receive and share information.

5 Responses to “Google Plunges into Video Conferencing and the Internet of Things”

  1. Google`s plunge into video conferencing industry has once again proved that Google is best in innovations. Its a bold step by Google as there are already leading players such as Cisco, RHUB, WebEx, gotomeeting, Avaya etc. and to compete against them, requires innovativeness.

  2. Josh,

    Great summary of our changing marketplace. But may I suggest you need to take the Google/Nest section a bit further.

    Google didn’t buy Nest because it’s a cute design or the opportunity to steal a few Apple folk, they bought the package for the in-home metadata.

    A thermostat is a sensor as is the smoke detector as is the garage-door opener – all of which are connected to your Smart Phone.

    A few scenarios on how to make money with data from those devices:

    1.) The OpenTable app sends you five local restaurant deals when your garage door opens on Saturday night at 6:30 P.M. or

    2.) You receive a text message from the Wall Street Journal offering a subscription deal at 6:30 A.M. when your Nest thermostat resets from Sleep to Wake temperature.

    I personally find this a bit discomforting. However, my 22 year-old and my 20 year-old, the Next generation, find it terribly exciting.

  3. Playing devil’s advocate, what specifically do you see as the “limitations to the environment where this unit will be successful and that a professional should be consulted”?

    Understanding the specific pros/cons will only help AV Integrators like us sell customers beyond these entry-level solutions.

    • Jeremy –

      When that quote is taken in full it was a commentary on Google not clarifying that this is a system that is only capable of handling smaller applications (think huddle spaces or other areas where the potential users in the room will not exceed 4-5).

      This is a chance for Google to get in the good graces of the A/V world where we could help to drive the use of this product, and by letting their audience know that in larger applications a professional should be consulted, it pays acknowledgement to the fact that the Chromebox for meetings will not suit every application and there are knowledgeable individuals out there that can help you determine what will suit your needs.

  4. I’m embarrassed to say that I did not see this coming, but I definitely should have. I was giving some attention to everything-Apple and the fact that Microsoft is coming to the Infocomm show in a big way, but this caught me totally by surprise. Shame on me.

    And I do agree that our industry should be very concerned about Google muscling in on our action. At CCS, we’re spending a lot of time looking at the cloud conferencing/collaboration space, and this adds a major wrinkle to everything, I fear…