The Future of Google (Spoiler: It’s Pretty Bright)

google logoI’ve just finished a piece on Google’s uncertain future. Bit odd, you might think, given it’s one of the world’s biggest and most profitable companies.

Well, the initial brief was based on the web giant missing analyst expectations for Q4 2014. Which it didn’t do by a long way, but there you go. Although it has since bounced back with a storming start to 2015, there’s still enough latitude to ask where the firm might be headed over the next decade. Where are its core strengths, and how it will cope with the slow down in ad spend, increasing competition from the likes of Facebook and the move of more ad dollars into mobile, etc etc.

Google is in a lot of ways a company of two parts: the shiny, innovative, envelope-pushing start up putting huge amounts of cash into cutting edge technology projects that could transform the world in years to come; and the cash-hungry advertising behemoth. The problem it has is that the former relies on revenue from the latter to continue, although this is declining. The key I think will be Google’s ability to pull in more revenue from new streams going forward.

One of these will be video.

“I think for Google YouTube will remain a key strategic play and over the long term a strong source of revenues. YouTube combines two major digital advertising channels into a single location – search and video,” Ovum analyst James McDavid told me.

“Ovum’s forecast data shows that search is still the single largest segment of digital advertising spending but video is the fastest growing. Google having market leading plays in both sectors bodes pretty well for their future.”

Another key area is likely to be mobile, and Android is well placed with a market leading share. Google has a great opportunity to increase sales of services, ads, licenses and devices as well as peeling off a healthy cut of app sales. Only the huge market of China, where Play is locked out, and the potential fragmentation of the OS, threaten it here.

Quocirca founder Clive Longbottom agreed that Android represents Google’s best opportunity platform wise going forward.

“Chromebooks have been a bit of a disaster: a hell of a lot of work is required to make Chrome into an OS that works effectively and brings all the other Google services together in a way that really works,” he told me.

“Android, however, has been a runaway success – it is probably better for Google to concentrate on Android as the OS with a Chrome layer on top in a looser way than it has tried to date.”

I’ve only just had time to scratch the surface here; there’s also a great opportunity in cloud services, IoT and wearables and more for Google. It’ll just be interesting to see how it gets there – and whether any others can realistically challenge the Mountain View giant over such a wide sweep of product and service areas in the future.

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What to Expect from Giants of Console Gaming in 2015

gamer logoI’ve just finished a feature on the console gaming market which was just about as far out of my comfort zone as you can get.

Still, it’s always good learning about new areas of technology, so here’s what I have surmised over the past few days:

  • Sony and Microsoft rule the roost. Nintendo will never gain parity as long as its selection of third party titles is so poor.
  • Sony’s PS4 won 2014, but Xbox One hit back in the last two months of the year thanks to discounted pricing
  • Both of the big boys have copied each other’s strategy at times; in engaging with the gamer geek and “bedroom coder” community and in trying to tie up exclusive third party title deals.
  • There’s pretty much nothing to separate the two hardware wise, which is why there’ll be some increasingly aggressive deal-making going on with third party developers in the coming years.
  • As IDC Retail Insights head of Europe, Spencer Izard, told me, there are only two things gamers really care about: “how many of your friends are using my console and am I getting the best content.”
  • The future will eventually shift towards online downloads, although not until there’s a critical mass of users. Only then will the console giants feel they can take retailers on and undercut them on price with downloads.
  • In developing regions this shift will take far longer, as broadband infrastructure simply isn’t up to the hefty downloads necessary.
  • However, last year actually saw “a significant increase” in spending on digital transactions for games, according to IHS head of games, Piers Harding-Rolls. “Part of this is to do with the early adopters who are currently very active digitally on the latest consoles, part of this is to do with the day and date release of new releases alongside boxed product in the retail channels and part of it is to do with the ability to use more efficient monetisation models in the digital space,” he told me. “In this context we have seen more open ended spending opportunities emerge on consoles during the last few years driving up monetisation.”
  • The rise of smartphone and tablet-based gaming represents a real challenge to the console players
  • In China, like Korea, Sony and Microsoft have just been too late to make a difference. The market is either swamped with pirated clones or dominated by PC gaming. Regulators will also be hard to please in terms of software content.

And there you have it. All you need to know about console-based gaming in a few media friendly sound bites.