Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What the heck is Google thinking?

Now that we've had a chance to see Google's latest product announcements at its I/O Conference, it's clear that the company understands software just fine but doesn't have a clue about hardware. Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, looks like a strong, if incremental, update to Android, as do the enhancements to Google+. However, the new hardware has me scratching my head:
  • There's nothing exciting about the new Nexus 7 tablet. Essentially, Google looked at what Amazon's Kindle Fire lacks--a front-facing camera and faster processor--added them, and gave the Nexus 7 the same price. In doing so, Google assumed that Amazon would stand still, when multiple rumors indicate that two new 7" tablets are due from Amazon as soon as this quarter. The price of the existing Kindle Fire is rumored to drop to $149, and a next-generation model with features very similar to the Nexus 7 is almost certainly not going to be priced more than $199. With Amazon's superior distribution, it's going to be very hard for Google to compete.
  • The Nexus Q media player makes absolutely no sense to me. It's an Internet set-top box with a 25-watt stereo amplifier and a single HDMI output, priced at $299. It competes with low-end A/V receivers, Internet set-top boxes from companies such as Apple, Roku and Vizio, and portable Internet receivers from companies like Sonos. Most of the devices that it competes with are less expensive ($99 or less in the case of the Internet set-top boxes.) Its round shape makes it a poor fit with audio component systems, and in use, it'll have a myriad of cords attached on both the front and back of the device. It requires another Android device as a remote control. Google says that the Nexus Q is a "social jukebox," but is there really a market for a digital audio player that lets you screw around with other people's playlists?
  • Google Glasses are vaporware; Google isn't committing to deliver anything for a year, yet wants developers to pay for them now. They're almost the perfect example of a product designed by engineers who have no idea what real consumers want. Google doesn't even know what the use cases will be; it wants developers to pay $1,500 to help it find out. The market is...skydivers who want low-resolution video cameras in their sunglasses? Engineers who want to look like dorks? People who can't be bothered to look down at their smartphone to see their messages?
When you put these projects together with Google's Chrome OS initiative, which is coming apart at the seams, and pipe-dream projects like self-driving cars, it's clear that all that Larry Page has done is kill off one set of unproductive projects in favor of a different set of equally unproductive projects. All the while, Google is continuing to bleed employees, and the company is being forced to add talent through ever-more-expensive acquisitions. It would be great if Google was doing fundamental research that's inventing entirely new technologies, as Bell Labs did for decades, but most of what's coming out of Google's efforts is...junk. Google's advertising revenues are subsidizing one of the most wasteful and undisciplined product development programs in the history of high tech. 

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