After I/O: Google tries to be Sony, hobbles Android's business case

Google Play, Nexus 7, Google Glass, and Nexus Q all point to a consumer electronics focus for Android

If you didn't get the message when Google changed the name of its Android Marketplace app store to Google Play, it should've come through last week when Google used much of its I/O conference to promote a heavy consumer electronics strategy, such as the Kindle Fire competitor Nexus 7 and Apple TV competitor Nexus Q. To me, it's clear that Google wants to be the new Sony, an innovator in and mass producer of entertainment products.

If you're old enough, you'll recall Sony used to be a driver in consumer electronics, inventing technologies such as the Walkman that in their time were as disruptive as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad have been in theirs. Today, Sony is just a brand for a spectrum of cheap to quality products similar to everyone else's.

[ Neil McAllister reviews the Nexus 7. | JR Raphael picks the best office apps for Android tablets. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with InfoWorld's Mobilize newsletter. ]

There's an opportunity for Google to take on leadership in home-entertainment consumer electronics, with Samsung and perhaps LG the only other real competitors throughout the living room. Apple and Sansung are the world's top consumer electronics firms, thanks to their strong presence in computing and mobile devices. Apple, like Microsoft has ambitions in the living room, but as part of a general operating environment strategy similar to how PCs could be used for all sorts of tasks. Just as Windows and OS X have been kept as multipurpose platforms, so too iOS and Windows 8 persist in that generalist approach.

What does that mean to Android as a business device? Certainly, Google has largely ignored the specific needs of business in the last year, and now it seems to be even more focused on the consumer electronics side.

Take the Nexus 7, the Asus-Google collaboration. Although it's an Android tablet that can run any Android app, the UI has been reworked to focus on entertainment services, from music and movie playback to games and books. The familiar app screen is available, and you can put your non-entertainment apps on the home screens as in other Android devices.

But the context imposed on you in the Nexus 7 is a portable iTunes player, using Google's nascent iTunes-like services. That's a big change from what Apple does in iOS and what Google has done previously in Android: Have entertainment easily available but not the primary focus. Thus, iOS and other Android devices are general-purpose hardware items you can tailor to your liking. The Nexus 7 is already tailored -- to entertainment.

Now take the Nexus Q, the stylish spherical device that lets you stream music and video to your TV, using your Android smartphone or tablet as a controller. Yes, it's an Apple TV clone with a built-amp for direct speaker connections. But it lacks the ability to stream presentations or Web pages, so it can't be used also for business use in conference rooms and presentations, as the broadly positioned Apple TV does. It's noteworthy that the one device Google has branded as solely its own is the Nexus Q. The other Google devices are co-productions: the Galaxy Nexus with Samsung, the Nexus 7 with Asus, and the Chromebooks and the new Chromebox -- a port-laden Mac Mini clone running Chrome OS -- with Samsung. That Q decision speaks volumes about Google's internal priorities.

Then there's Google Glass, the virtual reality hardware plans to release next year. That's a pure (high-end) consumer play.

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