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.


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.

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  1. Great article.
    I love your writing style. I’ve read alot of novels, (mostly crime, mystery and fantasy) and i think you missed your calling.

  2. I somehow think the iphone might get the streetview.
    are you just guessing about it being an android exclusive, or are you basing this on fact?

  3. Incredibly well written and narrative… an enjoyable read. But I have to disagree… I don’t think Google is aiming for any kind of Android “exclusivity”… they are happy to get their products/services into as many hands as possible for free and monetize the traffic with an advertising solution. You can count on that.

  4. I agree with phandroid except I think the “best” versions will be on Android because it will be a “native” platform for Google and will not suffer from “not invented here” syndrome amongst the engineers. I also think it’ll just be easier to do in Android a lot of the cool things that should have been here 5 years ago but thanks to the primitive and predatory wireless industry in this country it hasn’t shown up, until now.

  5. Dude, reading your post like reading a thriller novel. You should try write a novel and send it to a publisher, you’ll make tons of cash.
    My review of your post:
    Content: 4/5
    Details: 4/5
    Style: 5/5
    Engaging: 5/5
    Visualization: 5/5
    Overall 4.5/5

  6. This is describing something that delivers on what we’ve seen described for years–a heads-up-display of the real world, similar to:

    There is huge potential here, especially with hardware-accelerated OpenGL. Showing routes overlayed on real-life imagery is killer, and the in-Maps StreetView app already does this to a small extent.

    Now imagine going to your favorite national park and having mountains and river names pop out at you. :)

  7. Good idea!

    There is still a danger of google turning into a monopoly and stifling new innovative ideas to protect its profits. Its still fundamentally a non-democratic entity that is legally obliged to make more profits for the shareholders no matter the cost.

  8. Help. Call me stupid, but I don’t get it.

    “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.”

    How is that useful? I missed the boat here. Somebody explain how I would use this killer app, because it’s apparently too early in the morning for subtlety for me.

  9. Posted most of this at tmonews:

    Plenty of applications that are common place and used around the world started out with similar sentiments. I imagine some said the same about TV, Radio, personal computers, internet, cell phones, navigation, etc etc etc.

    IMHO this is truely revolutionary. Just imagine other implications for this: Finding your child where you can see REALTIME movement and get a display even though they are in a sea of people. Being on an airplane and being able to see the cities and landmarks you are flying over(not just that gps of plot of where the plane is). Applications/possibilities just off the top of my head: All sorts of tourist applications. Wildlife tracking using tags, prisoner tracking, Troop management(though this probably already exists), general info, social interaction and gaming, scavenger hunts, finding all those missing easter eggs :) .

    This could go way beyond use of a cell phone. This is an amazing use of streetview, maps, gps, cameras, cloud computing and the builtin compass. Whether any of the above apps are actually ever created is beside the point. For the first time this is an ACTUAL possibility, not just for some secretive government agency with silent helicopters, but for the masses. /conspiracy theory off

  10. enkin may not be alone, while browsing this page:

    i noticed that they say:

    “Those of you following along carefully at home (or who bothered to read this far) will notice that there’s only 46 in this list. 4 winners opted to continue their efforts in secret and so while we congratulate them too, we can’t list them here.”

    enkin may be one of those 4, what other 3 apps have caught google’s eye?

  11. Cheers guys. :)

    Phandroid — You’re absolutely right that Google doesn’t want to put Apple out of business, however I think Street View, or certain other apps will be Android-exclusive because Google needs Android to succeed (for the rest of their strategy to work). Just telling everyone “buy this phone because our O.S. is open” isn’t enough. Street View is tangible to the end-user, and would be something you couldn’t get on the iPhone (for example). On Android, you could demo it to your friends, and it will sell handsets.

    And, they need to sell Android handsets because they’re after something much bigger. For some hints, we can look at Google’s other recent activities — their interest in freeing mobile whitespaces, and their bidding-up of the multi-billion dollar FCC auction to trigger the open-handset clause…

    Remember, they keep calling Android a mobile “platform”, not a cell phone O.S.

    What other objects move around every day? ;)

  12. First let me say I may be stating the obvious…
    But for me the light just came on. I was interested in the OHAs
    Android mobile operating system mostly because I am a fan of Google’s suite
    of tools. I was excited in that i would hopefully find a mobile device that
    would seemlessly synch my e-mail, calendar, docs, pics, IMs etc. And I believe that may be in the cards for OHAs mobile operating system but the more I look at it i think there is sooooo much more that google is targeting.

    A week or so ago I read an article here from PhineasJW. Great article and it
    got me thinking. What other kinds of devices might Google be targeting? And what do we know about Google:
    1) They are founding members of the OHA
    2) They have recently petitioned the FCC for the use of whitespace left over from
    Analog TV. (
    3) Google among others have invested 3.2Billion in the Clearwire/Sprint-Nextel JV.

    Google invests in lots of things and has bought many a startup. So whats different about this?

    Well take a look at what android was made for…mobile phones right? Well if you take some of the comments from (Andy Rubin?) that the OHA’s ANDROID could be used on devices that didn’t even have a screen…?? Well what does that mean? Why would google get into mobile phone OSes anyway? To sell more ads? Sure. But its such a small market right? Well it probably would be if 1) the users web experience is like it is with most non iphone phones. 2) if it were JUST limited to mobile phones.

    Over this holiday weekend I read about sprint FINALLY launching their XOHM service in the coming months. I wasn’t sure what XOHM was sooooooo i googled it. (What? did you think i would use yahoo to search for it?) I still don’t know but I saw that XOHM’s network utilizes WiMAX (Worldwide interoperability for Microwave Access). The more i read about this 4G technology and what was envisioned for it I realized why Android was such an important play for google. WiMax proponents envision pretty much every new electronic device you can imagine being connected via WiMax. Just take a look at the following:
    “Not Just for Computers

    Get ready to experience wireless broadband way beyond your computer. We’re working with top electronics companies, like Nokia, Samsung and Motorola, to innovate new kinds of XOHM-ready, WiMAX products – even some you may have never thought about using to get online:

    * Digital cameras & camcorders
    * Personal digital assistants
    * Personal media devices
    * Cell phones
    * Video-phones
    * Navigation devices
    * In-car entertainment systems

    Connect This

    XOHM won’t just connect WiMAX-enabled products to the internet it’ll allow them to connect across the network to each other. We expect this to open exciting new experiences beyond just getting online with the potential to change how we communicate, enjoy, and achieve – for example:

    * Health: a mobile health monitor could track and transmit a user’s vitals and alert a hospital or caregiver in case of an emergency.
    * Sports: a runner’s performance could be monitored by WiMAX-enabled chips built into her shoes to be shared with coaches, peers or spectators.
    * Home Entertainment: While you’re out of town, your WiMAX-enabled DVR could send a reminder to your phone that your favorite TV show is about to start – command it to record the show to watch later via your WiMAX-enabled portable video player.

    XOHM Experiences

    XOHM’s promise of next generation mobile broadband will open new ways to use the internet. Soon you will:

    * Browse the Web at broadband speed on your choice of WiMAX-enabled devices while riding in a car, on the train, the ferry or other vehicles.
    * Quickly download new music to your MP3-player while jogging in your favorite park.
    * Automatically send snapshots or video directly from your digital camera to your website, friends and family.
    * Download movies to your in-car display while driving to keep your kids happy on your road trip.
    * Get on-the-go location-based alerts, so you’ll know when you’re near a bar that serves that rare brand of beer (or any of your favorites).

    And these are just a few examples of what you can expect as we work to turn possibilities into reality.”

    So besides the cool factor of being able to be connected like this google has a vested interest in gaining not a foothold but a strangle hold on this next generation market and its starting right now. Whether you like it or not google makes money from targeted ads and they are leaps ahead of the competition. Imagine the numbers of ads that google could serve to your tv, dvr, cellphone, webbrowser mp3 player etc. Is there any reason why Google wouldn’t want to venture into the mobile OS market?

  13. Wow! Thanks for the great informative post.
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  14. […] The opposite approach is more characteristic of Google – a strong core objective and philosophy, but lots of freedom for the troops to experiment officially or otherwise during the 20% of their actual work time they are allowed to work on their own ideas and projects. It seems likely this is a more reliable model with greater sustainability, but time will tell and much of this challenge is still so new, the real handbooks on replicating these successes hasn’t been written. […]

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