Google – threats and opportunities 2014

One of the more popular blogs that I have written was about Google.  It was written back in March of 2012 and because this industry moves so fast it seems like I am overdue for an update on where I see Google’s opportunities and threats today.  I have actually written a couple of blog posts about Google (Threats and Opportunities and The Google Decade) and they are already starting to look a little dated.  In the world or technology that is not surprising, we are moving from decades to half decades. I thought it a good time to update what I see at one of the world’s leading technology companies.  In the two years since I wrote my initial blog, Google has continued to create industry excitement with its work in wearable technology, Google Glass and in robotics, with its efforts around creating a robotic vehicle.   It is rumored to be creating its own watch to potentially compete with the iWatch.  I say potentially because nothing has been released yet by any major player.  When we review what I wrote and where we are there are  a few updates.  A few new opportunities and new threats.

There is the obvious competitor and then the not s0 obvious co-opetition.  The obvious is Apple.  With the immensely popular iPhone it is the most direct competitor to Google’s Android platform and when we talk about consumers this is direct competition as we have come to know and love.  However this states the obvious, probably more relevant is the threat from its largest partner: Samsung.  When Google made its Android platform open-source and easy to license I imagine it saw a field similar to what Microsoft had created with its OEM platform, a huge ecosystem of partners competing with one another.  However an interesting thing happened along the way, Samsung took more than its fair share leaving the competition in the dust.  Unlike Microsoft’s ecosystems, in Google’s ecosystem one company has come to dominate.  Samsung will use it’s position as leverage against Google, that is for certain, otherwise they would not be a very wise in their future outlook.  How Google manages this relationship will be a big part of its future failure or success..

When we talk about consumers we quickly can get in the Social Media aspects of consumers lives.  Google’s foray into this space has not been an instant media darling as would have been hoped.  Google Plus launched and got some initial traction but has certainly seemed tp slow down to the point it is rarely even mentioned.  The two big threats to Google’s business are Facebook and Twitter.  Around a year ago, just after Facebook’s IPO, Mark Zuckerberg commented that Facebook was making a billion dollars in their search business, without even trying. Since that time Facebook has focused heavily on generating revenue from it’s mobile business.   Twitter is the pulse of the internet.  If you want to know what is happening right now in the world the best place to go is Twitter.  More than anything Twitter had become digital democracy.  With each revolution the main place to get news is on Twitter.  Google makes money on eyeballs on the internet, when another company comes along that takes those eyeballs they threaten revenues, which make Twiiter and Facebook two of Google’s prime competitors.

Robotics is an interesting area.  Google’s interest in Robotic vehicles is not a “humanitarian” act.  If you think about it the first things you do when you get in a robotic vehicle  is give it directions.  Let’s see, who does this better than anybody else?  Why of course it would be Google Maps, which is nicely tied in with Google search, and there you have it.  Google could make money every time you are in your car.  To me, though, Robotics is not just what we have come to now and love in film and books, it’s the new mobile future.  Despite the freedom we have with out tablets and smartphones, we are still in some shape or form physically clinging to our devices.  Robotics is the promise of removing the umbilical cord and providing us all we have today with out the need to be tied to a device. That vision will play out as hybrid of robotics and the cloud.  Google will play in both if it chooses.  That opportunity will dwarf everything we know.

In addition to robotic vehicles Google has what is known as Project Moonshot.  These are essentially where Google comes up with big ideas and then tries to figure out what it can do and if there is a future for Google in what ever Project Moonshot comes up with.  Robotic Vehicles and Google Glass are two such things that have come our of this en-devour.  Now Andy Rubin, of Android fame, has his own Project Moonshot underway focused on simply Robots.  I think what is best about Google and where it shines is with the efforts it places in Project Moonshot.  They come up with futuristic and really big idea and garner attention and admiration for what they do.  Having spent time at Microsoft and seen the billions put into research and development, it seems like the return has been very little, and I think a large part of it has been the inability to see new markets and to try to fund project that will fill the void.  The opportunity that Google envisions and creates in Project Moonshot can potentially yield huge financial upside for Google, while more importantly keeping Google a relevant technology company.

The browser war’s continue to tilt in Google’s favor as their share seems to have only increased since I wrote my original blog.  Google’s business depends on the internet.  The more eyeballs on the internet the more revenue for Google.  It only made sense for Google to invest heavily in the market that provides the windows to the internet.  The latest market share stats show a slow and fairly consistent trend upwards.  Google has launched Chrome based netbooks to challenge Microsoft’s traditional dominance in the PC Manufacturing space, should this take  off it would have a significant impact on the bottom line of Google and of Microsoft.  There are certainly other competitors in this space, such as Firefox and Apple’s Safari.  Firefox shows the limitations of open source as nothing speaks to pressure like an earnings report.  Something the folks at Mozilla seem to be missing, thus relying on the communities passion of the community, who can leave whenever they want.  Safari is too tied to Apple’s product line to be the “biggest” threat.  It will be relevant but in the short term I do not see it being the dominant player.

A lot of Google’s success can be tied to their indirect model of using cash revenues from search to fund other businesses at Google. One such beast is Google Docs.  It is still far behind the 800lb gorilla, Microsoft Office, but unlike previous competitors Google Docs is funded.  It is making headway with younger generations who do not need all that Microsoft Office has to offer.  My kids use GoogleDocs at school, in fact I rarely if ever see or hear about Microsoft software.  It may not hurt Microsoft today but if could tomorrow and considering the over ten billion in revenues it means to Microsoft I am sure Google has thought, “what if we get 20% of that market”?.  As usual Google is able to tie in Search and Chrome as part of the overall experience, thus increasing revenues and talking browser market share.  Cloud based productivity is here to stay and growing quickly and Google Docs will be a big part of that market.

The natural competitor to Google’s traditional search is Microsoft’s Bing search engine.  Despite its enormous financial resources and talent, Microsoft’s Bing has failed to become a serious threat to Google’s search business.  The fear Google should have here is not that Bing within a year or two will take serious market share from Google. A bigger concern is that they will go away all together.  Seems odd, but with the uncertainty at Microsoft these days around who the next CEO will be, some talk has begun that whomever takes over will either sell or kill off the business.  If that were to happen the competition for Google would shrink significantly.  We would have Yahoo, Baidu and a few other foreign competitors, but it would raise anti-trust fears and may make Google “lazy”, not having a competitor to wake up and focus on each working day.  Ironically you see rumblings by Microsoft about the anti-trust.  It seems human nature to hate the government until you need them.

Information everywhere is a powerful driver of revenue and in the end that means we are always connected.  Google drives its revenue from the internet, and despite its already enormous size it continues to grow, foster new innovations and by default new opportunities.  Despite the recent hype around the “cloud”, we have always thought of the internet as being  in some virtual non-physical location.  It is digital, not real.  Google has been at the forefront.  But looking to the future that ethereal environment is about to take on a more physical appearance as that information stored in the cloud will be relayed to communicate with a whole host smart and robotic devices.  There are plenty of great opportunities, not just for Google but the industry to capitalize on.  Perhaps it will be one or more of the existing players and likely their will be several new entries into the market who will become big fast.  The only thing for sure right now at Google is the future has never looked brighter or more ominous.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 6, 2013

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