Life beyond search
Google Now represents a significant opportunity for Google in its shift away from search-based ad revenue and toward mobile- and location-based advertising.
BetterCloud CEO David Politis points to Google's acquisition of Zagat as a prime example. "I can imagine restaurants paying to show up in Google Now search results," says Politis, whose company created FlashPanel, a security and management software solution for Google Apps admins. "That's a strong source of future revenue and works well with the growing emphasis on mobile search."
Here, one of Google's most buzzworthy innovations of late may play a significant role: Google Glass. The wearable computer with head-mounted display gives Google a significant opportunity to transition from advertising to commerce, Politis says.
Robert Scoble, whom Politis cites, also pointed this out, with Google Glass serving as part of this process. According to Scoble, "Google could charge a nominal fee made for restaurant reservations or purchases through Glass (I can see this being applied to Android as well)."
Whatever Google Glass might accomplish, Android remains immutably at the center of Google's mobile strategy. For Google, the mobile operating system is many things at once: a platform for apps; a support infrastructure for mobile technologies, including Google Glass; and a point of intake for user telemetry.
The various Android-related announcements at last week's Google I/O conference all point to Android becoming more central than ever: a new Android-specific IDE for app developers; new tools for staging beta tests and limited releases of apps; localization tools.
But as much as mobile represents a lucrative future for Google, Larry Page and company are by no means focusing on mobile opportunities alone. As WordStream's Pan notes, the next big future direction for Google could very well be the destruction of the cable industry, by way of Google Fiber.
"The telecommunications and cable industry is a high-barrier-to-entry business thanks to huge fixed costs in setting up cable connections," says Pan. Google Fiber has done an end run around that, and in Pan's opinion, it would "tie back to Google's core competency -- search. Faster Internet, more searches; more searches, more ads served."
Killing projects for good
Few discussions of Google can avoid mentioning how the company has been shuttering services left and right. The death of Google Reader, for example, inspired enormous ire among users and helped launch more than a few competing products.
But not everyone thinks that Google killing services is bad news. WordStream's Pan believes the cleanups are "a great thing [because it means] existing core products get more engineers or past projects get a breath of new life."
"When Eric Schmidt came to Google," Pan recalls, "there were numerous moonshot projects aimed to change the world which lacked focus or cohesive strategy. What Eric Schmidt did by retiring projects was free up engineering resources for things that could build upon one another. Google Wave/Buzz may've died, but it came back as Google+. Google Notebook became Google Docs. Larry Page is doing the same thing, requiring new Google projects to have a social element to them."
Forrester's VanBoskirk sees a parallel here with Yahoo, the closest thing Google has had to competition in many respects. "Yahoo had so many disparate products for so long it lost its brand identity over time. Even now, under new leadership it isn't really clear what [Yahoo] is or is trying to be," VanBoskirk says. "I think perhaps Google (and other media companies) watched this and learned to consolidate ancillary services which weren't overtly contributing to the primary corporate strategy."