Wednesday marked the first day of Google’s annual I/O developers conference. During a three-hour keynote speech, the company formerly known as just a search engine demonstrated what many observers have long noted: Google wants to be everywhere.
On the one hand, this is a given. Information and communication moves freely across Google servers every day. But Wednesday’s conference seemed to cap off a newer trend in the company’s trajectory – the jump to play a major role in the way people interact with their everyday objects, from cars and watches to TV screens.
This is in addition to Nest Labs, the digital thermostat company Google acquired in January, which is working with companies to develop smart products that can communicate with each other with the thermostat acting as a central hub. Not to mention Nest's recent purchase of Dropcam, the home-monitoring start-up. And, of course, Google Glass, the accessory Google is determined to rebrand as the must-have fashion accessory as opposed to what could easily look like a robotic face.
All of which is to say that Google is penetrating our physical lives in ways previously unseen.
As The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern noted in a tweet:
The so-called “Internet of Things” has become a tech industry buzzword of late, the catch-all phrase being used to describe the intersection between the virtual and real worlds. Running neck and neck with competitors such as Apple, which has also released its own car software as well as the HomeKit application for smart appliances, Google wants to be at the front of the pack – or rather, on the front of our objects.
But in such a far-reaching, all-appliances, everything-centered approach, has Google done too much too fast?
Writing in The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo notes:
"If what the company showed off at an event for developers on Wednesday is a true vision of our future, Google’s software will soon reach ever further into our lives, sitting on just about every other device you encounter. The software will be available to help you look up any bit of idle curiosity or accomplish any task, anytime you desire."
Writing in The Telegraph, Sophie Curtis prophesies a not-too-distant future in which Google ends up on even more household objects:
"This plays into a wider vision for the 'smart home', whereby everything is connected and controlled digitally. It is feasible that, down the line, Google could release versions of Android for washing machines and kettles, so that they too can be easily controlled using a smartphone."
It almost goes without saying that privacy advocates are wary about what such a connected home might mean, despite repeated reassurances that users' privacy will be protected – for example, Nest Labs has stated that it does not share user information with parent-company Google. And yet, the majority of Google's revenue comes from targeted advertising and, as pointed out in a December 2013 letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Google does in fact view the material surface of household objects as avenues for future advertising.
With the industry of connected things only expected to grow in coming years, and with companies such as Apple and Google competing to corner this new segment of the tech market, we can likely expect ever more smart devices, with ever new ways to understand and live with them.
As Google co-founder and chief executive Larry Page told The New York Times, “Everyone can tell that their lives are going to be affected, but we don’t quite know how yet, because we’re not using these things — and because of that there’s a lot of uncertainty.”