Google made three announcements in the last couple of weeks, all of which show a new focus towards hardware, not quite what we expect from a company which is at the forefront of the ‘online services’ revolution. The simplest was that the new Android 3.1 release incorporated new capabilities to manage hardware extensions such as an inbuilt USB hub. Next up was a new initiative called Android@Home which focuses on embedding Android into household appliances, and then came the third which was the one that got all the attention; Chrome Notebooks.
Google will be selling direct – using Amazon as their channel – Acer and Samsung based Notebook PCs preloaded and working with their Chrome Operating System. The innovation that got the market talking wasn’t the hardware specifications which are pretty basic, but that these units are provided on a three-year lease, or refresh cycle, for a monthly payment which in the launch market of the USA is $28 per month. The twist is that this includes full support, and upgrades/updates as needed, and, as any CIO will attest, that’s good value. How can Google do this? The answer is that Chrome was built as an OS for online services and therefore it’s optimized for this.
Samsung and Acer will be selling the units too, in a conventional manner for $349 to $499 according to whether WiFi alone or WiFi and 3G is specified, just like tablets. It’s a move which seems to suggest a new specification point in the market for devices, and lines up with the overall shift to mobility and wireless.
Google has been placing test versions called the CR-48 in the market since December 2010 so it should be well tested, but the real point that links this move to the other moves is that Google is effectively seeding the market with hardware that is optimized for, and will increase demand for, its services. In much the same way as an Android tablet acting as a USB hub creates a cluster of devices that can connect to and consume services, or home appliances represent still further online consumption devices. For Google, extending its interest to hardware is an acknowledgement that in the new online browser cloud model it’s the user devices that ‘pull’ services and not as in client-server the servers ‘pushing’ applications to licensed users.
Microsoft shocked a lot of people with their announcement of full support on Azure for the development and operation of services for Apple iPads, and iPhones together with Google Android tablets and smartphones. Some commentators, perhaps lacking a grasp of the changes, took this as a sign of weakness for Windows; actually it was a good move towards creating a whole new block of users for Azure and by definition using Microsoft services as well. In an interview with the UK’s Daily Telegraph, Kurt DelBene, president for Microsoft Office, stated, “the individual becomes central to Microsoft products”.
Keep that statement in mind when recalling the announcement of the acquisition of Skype, don’t think about the cost and whether the $8.5bn was justified, think about the value of raising the game in collaboration and social tools by providing an embedded Voice over IP, VOIP, service. The Skype Journal ran the most thoughtful piece on the possibilities. Put another way, if others, notably Google and Apple, are doing a great job of shifting hardware devices that are strongly web- and service-centric into the market then how do you ‘rustle’ those devices into your cloud? Answer: some very, very strong and ubiquitous universal services that have already got a huge installed base like Skype.
If your experience of the industry goes back to pre PC times, then the term ‘rustle’ and the behavior should ring some bells. The very similar game then was to ‘rustle’ your competitors’ installed ‘green screen’ terminals into your community by providing connectivity to some very desirable services, and to support the onward connectivity to their original mini or mainframe hosts. Done the right way it placed the rustler in prime position and made the other supplier a secondary player. Seems the same game is back with the objective of rustling devices into your cloud of services from one side versus repopulating the herd with new devices that only answer your call.
What next? Time for your move IBM, HP, Oracle and SAP. What about Amazon? Seems to be a winner already, as the others increasingly turn to Amazon to support their own moves.