WAKE UP! Google Is A Hardware Company Now

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Photo: YouTube

Google makes stuff. Physical stuff.That’s the overwhelming message the Web giant delivered today at its big Google I/O conference for developers in San Francisco.

On the menu: an updated Google Nexus smartphone, the Nexus 7 tablet, the Nexus Q media PC—even the surprise announcement of the first commercially available version of Google Glasses, cofounder Sergey Brin’s secretive augmented-reality project.

Google CFO Patrick Pichette struck a defensive note in the company’s annual stockholders’ meeting last week when he asserted that the company was already one of the largest hardware manufacturers in the world, thanks to its experience in developing its own highly customised servers for its sprawling data centres around the world.

Pichette was defending Google’s controversial acquisition of Motorola Mobility. But he might as well have been speaking of this week’s announcements.

Today’s keynote presentation prominently featured some members of Google’s little-known industrial design team, like Chris Jones and Isabelle Olsson.

With the Nexus Q and Google Glasses especially, Google is developing its own distinctively future-forward look for hardware. Whether it will be a hit with consumers, we’ll have to wait and see. But it’s a way for Google to make its mark.

Don’t forget Google’s push into the enterprise, too, where it’s advancing the cause of Google Apps by selling Chromebox and Chromebook PCs.

Oh, and of course there’s Motorola. Google has largely been running it separately, and Motorola was barely mentioned in today’s keynote. That’s because Google’s been angling to make hardware long before it bought the smartphone and tablet maker—and is pushing products into the market on its own while it “resets and retools” Motorola.

Owning Motorola doesn’t hurt, but Google doesn’t need to be a hardware manufacturer per se. Apple doesn’t manufacture its own hardware; partners like Foxconn do. But we’re clearly going to see the Google brand and Google design on more and more physical gear. And over time, that’s going to transform our concept of what Google is and does.

Where does that leave Google’s partners? In a tough spot. Google TV manufacturers Sony and Logitech’s modest displays were dwarfed by a giant-sized Nexus Q statue in the middle of the convention floor. There may be room for licensees of Google’s Android operating system. But Google wants to control the way consumers and business customers experience its brand—from the services in the cloud to the software on a device to the physical hardware.

Google is a hardware maker. Deal with it.

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