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Evan Schuman: Is Google forgetting that interactivity pays its bills?

Evan Schuman | May 28, 2014
As Google gears up for the Internet of Things, its vision seems a bit off. Thermostats as billboards?

The flipside, though, works: When we're all controlling those thermostats and refrigerators from mobile and desktop devices, the interactivity is there. But placing the ads on those devices? The only way that could work is if it allowed a one-click option: "Interested? Click the Yes button and we'll continue this when you materialize in mobile or desktop mode."

There's another possibility, which is that Google is envisioning thermostats and refrigerators that sport full-sized touchscreens. That's theoretically possible with a refrigerator (a little less space for magnets is fine by me), but it would force a radical rethinking of what a thermostat or watch looks like.

Then we have Google's reference to "car dashboards." Setting aside the distracted-driver issues and pretending that only passengers would use this capability (or drivers only when they pull over -- which sorts of defeats the intent of an automobile), we have to ask why. In this scenario, aren't we assuming that many drivers will also have with them a mobile device? Wouldn't that be the more logical mechanism to use?

Cars are indeed a huge target for customized marketing. For example, a recommendation for a restaurant is much more likely to be effective/persuasive when drivers are more than 50 miles from their homes. An integrated navigation system -- which has a function for defining "home" -- would know such things, as would a connected mobile device.

The bottom line: is the ideal environment -- even from Google's perspective -- one where consumers can interact with every device they run into? Or is it far better for those consumers to use one favorite device (which they have mastered) to interact with every device in their world?

This gets into a seriously cynical issue. Google has bought thermostat vendor Nest and is trying to purchase makers of other types of devices. Even as Google fights hard with Apple for control over mobile devices, it can at least try to get control of as many Internet of Things devices as it can. It's sort of a backup strategy in case it loses the mobile market-share war.

By the way, there was one other very interesting thought shared in that Google SEC letter. Many in the business press have been trying hard to say "mobile device" rather than " smartphone and tablet," as we envision a world where tablets may dominate. Google has taken the opposite approach, deliberately placing tablets into the desktop space, limiting its use of "mobile" to only refer to smartphones, which Google is now calling handsets.

"As tablets gained momentum in the market, it became clear to us that their usage had much more in common with desktops than with handsets. Accordingly, our campaign management tool, Enhanced Campaigns, launched in 2013, now requires a single bid for desktop and tablet ad campaigns," the letter said. "In a short period of time, the meaning of 'mobile' at Google has shifted dramatically to 'handset' from "tablet + handset.' We expect the definition of 'mobile' to continue to evolve as more and more 'smart' devices gain traction in the market."

One has to wonder how much market-share battles are shaping that definition?


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