Google In 2013: 11 Predictions

Dec 17, 2012 (04:12 AM EST)

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Google in 2013 will travel two steps forward and one step back. Through the merciless culling of its product portfolio at the hands of CEO Larry Page, and the growing synergy between its cloud services, operating systems and Google-friendly hardware, the company is well-positioned to consolidate its power and to keep growing.

The company has survived a copyright and patent infringement claim from Oracle that threatened to undo Android. Its hardware partners have fared less well, with Samsung on the defensive as it tries to reverse the billion-dollar judgment Apple won over the summer and with other Android hardware makers paying patent protection money to Microsoft and Apple.

Google's backward motion will be the result of a push by regulators and corporate litigants around the world to tame the company's ability to disrupt established markets and to extract tolls for daring to subsidize what was once expensive with ad revenue. Only a handful of companies are competing effectively against Google, and those that are doing well, like Baidu in China, tend to benefit from a regulatory advantage or, like Microsoft and its Office suite, from force of habit.

[ Freedom of online expression may be at risk. Read Google, Mozilla Warn Of Threats To Internet Freedom. ]

Google's greatest challenge in 2013 will come not from competitors but from the difficulties of monetizing mobile ads. Adblock Plus is now available for Android devices. Your move, Google.

My 2012 Predictions Scorecard

But before we get to Google's future, let's look at its past, specifically as it relates to my 2012 predictions.

1. Google Stars In "Regulatory Theater"
True. And the show continues. As this story was being written, the Wall Street Journal was reporting that U.S. and European Union antitrust officials plan to meet next week to discuss what to do about Google. They will struggle to come up with an effective remedy because search is subjective and Google's argument that it can bias its rankings as it sees fit is largely unassailable if you subscribe to free market capitalism.

2. Google Loses 5% Market Share To Bing
False. Microsoft's Bing search engine has gained market share in the U.S. but only about 1% as of October 2012. It presently receives about 16% of U.S. searches. Google meanwhile accounted for 66.9% of U.S. searches in October, according to ComScore, a record for the company. "Competition is only a click away," as Google puts it, turns out to be another way of saying "You can't get there from here."

3. GM Goes Google
False. Following the departure of CIO Terry Kline earlier this year, GM opted not to follow-through with the plan to switch to Google Apps, according to a person familiar with the matter. I asked GM's current CIO, Randy Mott, whether he'd be willing to be interviewed about the decision not to go Google. I haven't heard back.

4. Android's Share Of Smartphone Sales Reaches 60%
True, and then some. According to Gartner, Android accounted for 72% of smartphone sales in Q3 2012.

5. Google Chrome Ends 2012 With 35% Market Share
True enough. Chrome had 34.77% of the global browser market share in October 2012, according to StatCounter.

6. Google TV's Second Act Stronger Than Its First
Debatable. It would be hard to have a weaker second act, given Google TV's unimpressive debut, but second-generation Google TV devices haven't exactly been making waves. My prediction that Google would launch an ARM-based Google TV set-top box remains unfulfilled, but Sony has done so, the Sony NSZ-GS7.

7. Google Will Take A Shot At Siri, As Apple Promotes Its Replacement For Google Maps
True, even if Apple Maps has underwhelmed.

8. Google Will Release Chrome For Android

9. Google+ Survives
True. Google+ may not be an immediate threat to Facebook, but it's hanging in there.

All told, that's either six or seven right out of nine, depending on whether or not I get credit for prediction #6 about Google TV. Now on to 2013. Keep in mind that past performance does not guarantee future results.

In 2013, Google will be well on its way to becoming Apple, or the ad-supported younger brother of Apple. It will have digested Motorola, spit out the grisly bits and developed the skills to be a competent hardware maker. The lessons of the Nexus Q flop have been learned, but Google will still have to reconcile technology that engineers love with what consumers really want.

1. Google Glass Delayed After Developers Puzzle Over Its Reason For Being
When Google releases its initial round of Google Glass prototypes to developers next year, developers will be excited and Google+ will fill with images taken by early adopters. But Google's augmented reality glasses won't gain traction beyond those who love code and those who have cash to burn on cutting-edge gadgets. They'll be useful mainly as a hands-free audiovisual phone interface, like a Bluetooth headset that also feeds the eyes. Most consumers won't have any need for Google Glass, and those that might will be able to access augmented reality through mobile phone apps, which won't cost $1,500 or entail any further data fees.

Google will push the date for general release back to 2014 after realizing that the software infrastructure needed to do anything useful with Google Glass just isn't ready yet. In the interim, people will gripe that Google really ought to work on projects that have a chance of making life better for people, like self-driving cars and Google Fiber.

2. Google Becomes A Force In Content Production
Google has been pouring money into content production. It recently opened a studio called YouTube Space in an aircraft hangar in Playa Vista, Calif. Just as it has been shifting from a loosely controlled Android partner ecosystem to something more coordinated and orderly, Google's initiatives to support content producers have become more formalized and directed. The company has also proven that it can release compelling mobile games, like Ingress. Expect more along these lines. Google is the next Pixar and 2013 is the year its content will start to be taken seriously.

3. Google Fights Taxes
As authorities in France, Germany, and Italy look for ways to expand their tax coffers while protecting locally based businesses, Google will have to fend off regulations that could hobble its interests. In at least one of these countries, Google will have to threaten to stop indexing local content. And it will probably spend 2014 appealing these heavy-handed rules to higher authorities in the EU while lobbying representatives in the U.S. for diplomatic assistance.

4. Google Expands Voice Technology Lead
Apple's Siri can do some neat tricks, but it's still not smart enough to decipher ambiguous or poorly worded queries. It doesn't yet have enough data behind it, something Google has in abundance. Google Voice Search is at least as competent as Siri, and in some ways is better. Others share that view. While Apple no doubt will continue to push Siri forward, Google's data advantage and its decision not to limit availability of its voice search service to recent hardware means Google Voice Search will evolve and spread faster. If Apple doesn't raise its voice search game, asking Siri a question will become as quaint as Ask Jeeves.

5. The Google+ Jokes Will Stop
Google+ was launched last year amid an air of desperation. Google's other social projects like Buzz failed and there was a sense the future of computing would take place in a walled garden, away from Google's ability to monetize anything. It didn't help that Google+ was easy to make fun of. Facebook had 750 million active users at the time and Google+ was starting from zero. Nowadays, Google says Google+ has 400 million registered users. Okay, so many of those are compulsory members, but Google insists it has 100 million active monthly users. Even if only a subset of those are truly enthusiastic about Google+, Google has integrated Google Places/Local into Google+, making the social network useful for businesses. This in turn provides an incentive for businesses to direct their customers to their Google+ pages. Like it or not, Google+ is here to say, and is likely to grow as Google integrates it into its more popular services.

6. Android First
Not long after Apple initiated the mobile app gold rush by opening iOS to developers in early 2008, creators of smartphone applications began to make iOS development a priority over other platforms. For the past few years, surveys have indicated that mobile developers have been more focused on iOS than Android, because iOS apps have been easier to monetize. However, some of those surveys have been called into question. And in 2013, it will become clear that developers are starting to target Android first.

7. Chromebooks Go High End
Google, Samsung and Acer have already pushed the Chromebook price boundary down below budget Windows laptops. The strategy has paid off: The Samsung Chromebook is sold out. In 2013, Google and Samsung will aim upmarket with a prestige model, a $799 Chrome OS laptop that competes with the MacBook Air.

8. Google Prepares For 2014 Retail Push
Google already has experimental retail outlets at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. In 2011, Google opened a popup Chromebook store inside U.K. computer vendor PC World, and this year, Google set up hundreds of "Chromezone" kiosks at Best Buy outlets. In 2013, it will get serious about a permanent retail presence, but the company will wait until the following year, when it has a more substantial product pipeline, to open retail stores. There's another scenario, however: Google's recently acquired BufferBox, a startup that operates parcel pickup kiosks. Maybe tomorrow's Google retail store is just a storage locker at the end of an e-commerce transaction.

9. The Google Cloud Platform Picks Up Steam
Google has been experimenting with platform-as-a-service for several years with App Engine. It got serious about positioning App Engine as a service for businesses last year and this year the company entered the infrastructure-as-a-service market with Google Compute Engine. Amazon Web Services will remain the leader in the computing utility space in 2013, but Google is now competing energetically. Both companies have been dropping prices and the coming year will bring novel IT options for businesses from both Amazon and Google.

10. Google Buys Pinterest
Imagine a Facebook for products. It's called Pinterest, the surprisingly popular, image-heavy content-sharing startup. It would look even lovelier surrounded by Google's e-commerce and social infrastructure. Another way to play this would be to buy Etsy, an online market for handmade goods. Think eBay, but with a soul. Either way, Google should be ready to make a significant e-commerce acquisition in 2012 -- the company has made only about half as many acquisitions in 2012 as it made in 2011.

11. Google Graduates To ISP
O3b, the satellite venture backed in part by Google, will launch several satellites in 2013 to provide backhaul connectivity to mobile operators in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Google will likely negotiate to ensure its services are available through regional mobile companies. In conjunction with its Google Fiber venture, Google is becoming a more important player in the provision of Internet infrastructure, in addition to its longstanding role as a provider of online ads, online content, software and hardware. In 2013, Google will expand its Internet connectivity offerings and become a major ISP outside of Kansas City.