We may be approaching End Times, because this is now the second time in recent memory that we’ve agreed with Robert Scoble. This time, Scoble has an opinion piece on Huffington Post, questioning whether Google has the ability to stick with anything beyond its core search products.
His evidence is scant — Larry Page wasn’t wearing Google Glass at TED this week, therefore Glass is Toast — but it’s an important question. Google launches lots of stuff. Not all of it’s good, but most of it draws attention because it’s Google. In some cases, like Google Reader or any number of long-forgotten retail-related search initiatives, people build on that infrastructure only to have Google eventually say, “Ooops, Nevermind, We don’t care, We’re shutting it down, TooBadSoSad.”
If you’ve built a business based on one of those things, this is a problem. Businesses need reliable partners, and Google has not always proved itself to be reliable.
As Scoble points out, Google remains unclear about its goals and ambitions with Glass. No one knows a schedule for widespread introduction. No one knows how many they think they can sell, or what a commercial product might look like. Why would a developer with any ambition for commercial success devote resources to building for Glass if there’s no prospect of Glass’ becoming more of an actual product and less of a toy? We can tell you first-hand that getting any sort of attention out of Google for interesting projects is maddening — not the kind of behavior one would expect from a company trying to invent a market segment.
Which brings us to Android Wear. Looks shiny. It’s got a bunch of interesting partners. But a lot of those partners are chipmakers for whom Wear is a small bet (and who already make chips in Android devices). The most out-front device partner so far is Motorola, which is still owned by Google itself. LG places small bets on as many platforms as it can because it’s big enough to hedge technology bets. Fossil? Well, we haven’t heard from Fossil yet, have we?
For all the legitimate complaining that people do about Apple, it does tend to commit its whole heart to its product segments it enters. One could complain (correctly) about its application software and its weird attitude about the consumer/prosumer/professional markets. And lord knows its cloud offerings are not yet fully matured. But when Apple gets into a segment, it stays there. What’s the last market that Apple quit on?
Google may wind up as a key player in the wearables market. Because of Glass, it certainly is the first company that most people think of when they think about wearables. Keep in mind though: entering a market, committing to it, and dominating it are three different things. All we’ve seen from Google and the wearables business is the first. If Google wants people to follow them into wearables, it needs to show evidence of the second.