The Google Whack

Weak Signal

A weak signal is a sign which is slight in present dimensions but huge in terms of its virtual consequences (Pierre Masse 1965)

The Google ‘Whack’

Author: Ian Hay

Team: VST&I Strategic Advisors

Date: Sunday, 14 May 2006


What?

This paper is written under the title weak signal but it is perhaps more an analysis of what the Google mobile strategy most likely is, I submit it as a weak signal because it is a summary of one direction they could take.

The views I present here are derived from various sources external to Google and not through any direct contact with the company itself, where relevant sources are declared, otherwise it is my interpretation of this data applied against my own views of this space.

Google have been making progressive moves into the mobile arena with the release of initially WAP versions of popular internet apps like Google Maps and an SMS based mobile search product, more recently they released their first Java based app to allow a much richer experience on many handsets for their Maps service than the previous WAP version and with this have fully entered the mobile app developer world.

Having ‘conquered’ the Web space Google is now turning its formidable ability to innovate quickly to the mobile space and this is likely to be a significant threat in 2006, arguably more so in the
USA but inevitably also across
Europe.

The initial focus on
USA will be driven by the adoption of Municipal WiFi networks by several large cities making them ideal places to kick start this activity


Why?

Google have made mobile a clear strategic priority for 2006, in their own words they state:

“There are millions of mobile devices that are unable to access billions of web pages – we will fix this”

A simple statement that carries a large threat to it, T-Mobile have already handed over their homepage to Google, Orange UK have used Google for non portal search for a long time but the product used was below par as not well designed for the mobile environment.

Google are buying companies like Android whose aim is to create a new user experience in mobile using Linux. They are also actively recruiting people with mobile development experience, specifically people familiar with creating an excellent user experience around mobile devices in terms of simplicity and look and feel, this includes
Orange staff that specialised in this area.

They also acquired Dodgeball, a social network over SMS start-up company. Crucially they are buying small start-up companies once they have established a level of success, time will tell if they have it right but at the heart of it must lie a coordinated strategy to achieve a specific goal, the question lies in what is the specific goal and to what extent might it affect
Orange.

Recent releases from Google include mobile Gmail and mobile personalised homepage, both of these services are designed to take advantage of any new smartphone with an XHTML browser and internet access, they provide seamless access to very popular web services with little or no differentiation in feature availability other than the obvious limitations of a mobile device.

They have also made it clear they want to interoperate with everyone on the Jabber based Google talk front, this includes FT/Orange/Wanadoo and anyone else that uses XMPP and is prepared to federate servers, this opens up the IM world to real interoperability and will set a challenge to the IM incumbents soon. At a recent conference they announced full support for libjingle (already announced on their blog) but this means that media rich features of other IM clients will now work through their servers creating a much richer open source alternative to incumbent IM providers.

And finally they are creating their own small municipal wifi networks which require you to use your Google account to log in to. Expect these to grow significantly once a few more pieces fall into place, alongside the increasing number of cities that are creating citywide WiFi networks too.


How?

A very obvious answer here is to sign partnerships with telcos in order to replace homepages, provide search, expose further apps like Google Local, Maps, Personal homepage, Email, in effect replacing the telco homepage offering.

Given the NeXt portal initiative this is clearly not something that FT/Orange will entertain despite several meetings with Google to try and get this to happen but it is interesting to keep track of where T-Mobile go with this, are they just jumping on the Google bandwagon with no clear commitment to anything more than a new homepage or is this just the start of something much deeper?

There have been endless speculations that Google is going to create its own OS, its own PC, and its own browser etc but I believe that their strategy is simpler perhaps, in a nutshell:

Create a low cost linux based simple handset that delivers the Google mobile internet experience seamlessly:

· Personal homepage (rss feeds, weather, stocks, news etc)

· Email access to gmail (new feature to compose offline)

· Contacts shared across all services (new app to cache for offline use)

· Maps

· Local search

· Talk over VoIP dependant on connection speed

· IM (federated with all other providers that use XMPP)

By doing this they can offer someone a seamless experience across any PC and their mobile, all information is stored in the network and either browsed to or cached to the device.

They may even consider an MVNO for the non VoIP calls but I feel they wont even bother with that and will advise customers to just get the best PAYG plan they can, after all there will be little need for it and once major cities have municipal wifi networks then citywide coverage will not be an issue either.


When?

Most of what I talk about is already released, there are two main things holding them back from this vision and that is the development of the handset and the muni wifi to run it on.

The purchase of Android back in August means that they are still some way from being ready but if you assume a minimum of 12 months to get this done, I expect to see something around May this year in terms of a prototype with a consumer release towards the end of the year. The fact they are hiring mobile developer specialists now fits with this in terms of taking 6 to 8 weeks to get a new idea out to test

I can’t comment on the municipal wifi network other than what I read on the web as not my domain, however they have started in San Francisco and I was able to log in and use it free on my Google account as they claim so it is really just a question of how much money they want to spend to get it up and running, and money is one thing they are not short of.

Google have a numerous services ready now and a wealth of cash to help bring about their vision so I expect there will be movement within the next 6 months that may hint to what the real Google objective is in this area.

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