October 30, 2014

Google's (Not So) Secret Strategy

Let’s say you’re an average 20 billion dollar company, with a sparse webpage and a search box. And since you’re swimming in money and ideas, you like dreaming up different ways to revolutionize the Internet. For instance, maybe one day you got tired of typing “Mapquest”, so you invented a new method to combine satellite and plane images into a seamless pyramid of tiles, and then leveraged your computing power to make them zoomable in real-time on a web page. Then, you threw in some roads and driving directions, hey real-time traffic too, and oh, since you were in the neighborhood, you sent out a fleet of vans to image the streets of the world. And – you made it all free to the end user. Google Maps. Done!

Man, that was easy. What’s next?

How about cell phones!

But, you’re late to the game again. This time, instead of an AOL conglomerate there’s another little California company who enjoys revolutions almost as much as you do, and in the time it took Windows Mobile to go from 6.0 to 6.1, this Cupertino firecracker exploded on the scene and turned the entire cell phone industry on its ear.

But, wait, you’ve got an opening! It seems the head of this Cupertino syndicate not only enjoys mock turtlenecks and long talks in front of a captive audience, but he also aspires to fame, wealth, popularity, social influence, deliberately omitting phone features, inventing new pay services, and, oh, also made an exclusive deal with the wireless Galactic Empire.

YOU’RE IN!

So you form an Alliance and create an open-source OS to try and restore order to the cellular galaxy. And, then you hold a developer’s challenge to stimulate ideas, and in the end, choose fifty apps. And among them you find some really cool stuff, like Android Scan and TuneWiki: and other apps that are revolutionary in their own right. But, there’s more, and here’s where it gets interesting…

At the Google I/O conference, you demo Street View, a new twist to your mobile map application. Not only is this the first demo of Street View on a mobile phone, but you add an extra touch: GPS and a compass. Now, your phone knows both where it IS (location) and where it’s pointing (direction).

So, if Street View mobile exists, why hasn’t it been released already, for the iPhone and Windows Mobile? Well, maybe it’s just an (alpha/beta), or it’s in the pipeline, or Google engineers are working with developers, or they’ve been really busy eating free dinner in the cafeteria and swimming in the rooftop pool. Or maybe, just maybe, it will be released – for Android only.

At his landmark 2007 iPhone keynote, Steve Jobs called Google Maps “truly remarkable” and touted the iPhone as having the “best version of Google maps on the planet”. That was true then. That’s been true until now. But inside of one month, that will change forever.

So, if the first key to Google’s (not so) secret Android strategy is the open-source, unlocked, uncrippled O.S., we unwittingly witnessed the second key at the Google I/O conference: EXCLUSIVITY.

What if dumb phones and the iPhone and Windows Mobile and Symbian, Blackberry and everyone else still get Google Maps and Gmail, but Android gets all the coolest exclusives: Street View, and Gmail-push, and Contact/Calendar sync, and … more?

It will happen, count on it. And for those two reasons alone Android will not only attract droves of new users but also beckon existing users away from their wireless empires or even from their iShackles.

But all that is utterly dwarfed by the last shell in the Android howitzer.

For that, let’s go back to that developer’s challenge. What if you found, among the submissions, a revolutionary app that fit your mobile vision and you had, oh, 7 billion dollars burning a hole in your pocket? Would you let your committee select the app for a cool but anonymous $25K grant, or would you launch the tinted-windowed corporate Gulfstream, and airlift the inventors back to the Googleplex?

I’m guessing the latter. And, there you have the final artillery piece in the Google salvo: THE KILLER APP

The killer app — something unseen, unexpected, unannounced, top-secret, and only coming to an Android phone near you. There may be many such secret apps, but for now, let’s speculate about just one. What if we used GPS, a compass, and a camera to create a “live” version of Street View?
Developed under the name “Enkin”, but for now let’s call it: LIVE VIEW

— A real-time, real-life ‘map’ of your current location, using the phone’s built-in camera, compass, and GPS, with floating annotations of your destination(s). The theory might go like this: You use Google maps to plot your course. You use Street View before leaving to glimpse your destination. And, you use Enkin (Live View) as you get close, to image the real world and display markers, direction, and distance.
So why haven’t we heard about this?

Last post from the Enkin blog (dated May 17th): “The first round of the Google Android Developer Challenge is over and the list of winners has been released. Congratulations to all the developers of the top 50 applications!

As some of you already noticed, Enkin is not one of them. We could speculate about the reasons for this, but there is more interesting news:

We have been contacted by Google separately and they, too, are excited about our project.

So at this point in time there are a number of possibilities for the project’s future, which we are currently exploring.”

So there it is. And, really, how hard would it be for Google to record a few MP3s for turn-by-turn voice directions or even add a Traffic API that used GPS polling and communicated the information in real-time to Google Maps? And, why stop there? How about you mount your phone to the dashboard and “Live View” (rev 2.0) actually traces your entire route in real-life 3-D space!?!? Forget about Nokia Maps and AT&T Navigator and other such nonsense, within five years Google could literally obliterate the entire Garmin and TomTom industry.

So, yes, Android is open source, Street View and other existing apps will be exclusive, but there’s a much, much bigger picture here. Google has its mobile battleship parked offshore, its sixteen inch guns are leveled, and it’s just waiting to unload a revolution on the beaches of both handheld devices and wireless empires.

There just might be a reason for all that secrecy.