Google Holds the Right Cards for a Horizontal Market

First published January 9, 2014 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

android_trhoneFunctionality builds up, then across. That was the principle of emerging markets that I talked about in last week’s column. Up – then across – breaking down siloes into a more open, competitive and transparent market. I’ll come back here in a moment.

I also talked about how Google + might be defining a new way of thinking about social networking, one free of dependence on destinations. It could create a social lens through which all our online activity passes through, adding functionality and enriching information.

Finally, this week, I read that Google is pushing hard to extend Android as the default operating system in the Open Automotive Alliance – turning cars into really big mobile devices. This builds on Android’s dominance in the smartphone market (with an 82% market share).

See a theme here?

For years, I’ve been talking about the day when search transitions from being a destination to a utility, powering apps which provide very specific functionality that far outstrips anything you could do on a “one size fits all” search portal. This was a good news/bad news scenario for Google, who was the obvious choice to provide this search grid. But, in doing so, they lose their sole right to monetize search traffic, a serious challenge to their primary income source. However, if you piggy back that search functionality onto the de facto operating system that powers all those apps, and then add a highly functional social graph, you have all the makings of a foundation that will support the ‘horizontalization” of the mobile connected market. Put this in place, and revenue opportunities will begin falling into your lap.

The writing is plainly on the wall here. The future is all about mobile connections. It is the foundation of the Web of Things, wearable technology, mobile commerce – anything and everything we see coming down the pipe.  The stakes are massive. And, as markets turn horizontal in the inevitable maturation phase to come, Google seems to be well on their way to creating the required foundations for that market.

Let’s spend a little time looking at how powerful this position might be for Google. Microsoft is still coasting on their success in creating a foundation for the desktop, 30 years later.  The fact that they still exist at all is testament to the power of Windows. But the desktop expansion that happened was reliant on just one device – the PC. And, the adoption curve for the PC took two decades to materialize, due to two things: the prerequisite of a fairly hefty investment in hardware and a relatively steep learning curve. The mobile adoption curve, already the fastest in history, has no such hurdles to clear. Relative entry price points are a fraction of what was required for PCs. Also, the learning curve is minimal. Mobile connectivity will leave the adoption curve of PCs in the dust.

In addition, an explosion of connected devices will propel the spread of mobile connectivity. This is not just about smart phones. Two of the biggest disruptive waves in the next 10 years will be wearable technologies and the Web of Things. Both of these will rely on the same foundations, an open and standardized operating system and the ability to access and share data. At the user interface level, the enhancements of powerful search technologies and social-graph enabled filters will significantly improve the functionality of these devices as they interface with the “cloud.”

In the hand that will have to inevitably be played, it seems that Google is currently holding all the right cards.

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