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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Motorola: The verdict's still out

Yet another Google move that has been widely scrutinized, and has yet to bear real fruit, is Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility.

The conventional wisdom has been that the acquisition was meant to give Google access to Motorola Mobility's patent portfolio -- or to give Motorola Mobility access to Google's legal muscle, for the sake of settling patent suits brought on by Apple and Microsoft. Not that this has stopped the European Commission from issuing a preliminary antitrust ruling against Motorola Mobility over the abuse of standard-essential patents for cellular technology. All the other tangible signs of the acquisition so far have been negative, including the death of Motorola's mobile-security subdivision 3LM, itself an acquisition (one founded, ironically enough, by an ex-Google employee).

BetterCloud's Politis believes Google's snapping up Motorola "was done more in an effort to give them the ability to build hardware should they choose to do so." (The long-rumored Motorola "X Phone" is allegedly going to be the fruits of such a joint Google-Motorola venture.) "To me it seems that Google is really emphasizing operating systems -- Android and Chrome OS."

This way, even if the devices themselves tank in the marketplace or fall victim to antitrust politicking, it won't matter as much. "The software angle has a much broader reach than hardware alone," says Politis. "I think [Google's] core strategy is to gain the ability to power other companies' devices" -- which Google can already lay a good deal of claim to having done.

Another hint of how Google could be approaching hardware partnerships came at Google I/O with the unveiling of an edition of the Samsung Galaxy S 4 with a stock Android 4.2 "Jelly Bean" install rather than Samsung's own version -- albeit at $649, a $50 markup over Samsung's own prices. Units sold this way could allow Google to roll out updates faster, provided consumers pay the premium for it.

On the move with Google Glass

No one questions how crucial mobile technology is to Google's overall vision. The bigger question is what that mobile strategy will consist of, aside from further leveraging Android as a driver for search.

WordStream's Pan believes Google's plan for mobile can be summed up as follows: "To become the top-of-mind brand for users whenever they need to find a solution to their problem. Need to go somewhere? Google Maps. Want new music? The Google Play store. Crave Chinese food? Google it on Chrome, and Google+ Local will give you the nearest results."'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.

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