Does Google mean what it says?

This week, one senior Google exec declared that smartphones are "emasculating," while another said there was no need for physical stores. Yet Google makes smartphones and has pop-up stores. Confusing?

Now that's a real man. Noah Zerkin/Twitter With Permission

In business, meaning what you say is unnecessary. It can also have consequences.

Was a Beijing restaurant really serious when it posted a sign that read: "This shop does not receive the Japanese, the Philippines, the Vietnamese and dogs"?

It was. Its owner takes China's territorial rights against various nations (and, presumably, dogs) very seriously.

And what should one make of the highly territorial bosses at Google when they say things in public?

Last week, they surpassed themselves in uttering words of moving peculiarity.

First, Android chief Andy Rubin told the Mobile World Congress that Google has absolutely no need of retail stores.

Rumors has been pulsating that the company felt it needed to compete with Apple and would open stores, with, no doubt, white walls and some Google logos.

It needed its products to be felt and not merely seen on a screen.

Not at all, soothed Rubin. These days, people just need to talk to their friends and read reviews before they spend thousands of dollars on a gadget.

I have a feeling that by "people" Rubin might mean "people who work here at Google who have little time to go to a physical store."

He might also mean "engineers who buy things according to specs, rather than anything human like touch, feel, or smell."

There is also the strange piece of data that Google actually does have pop-up stores. Real, physical ones in places like airports and British computer stores.

If there was no need for physical stores, why does Google have, well, physical stores?

Perhaps I'm being pedantic. Perhaps, moreover, Rubin simply didn't want to give away the fact that Google will simultaneously open 400 physical stores within the next 18 months.

The next day, though, things became even stranger.

Google's Sergey Brin turned up at TED and revealed that smartphones are, in fact, "emasculating. "

"You're standing around and just rubbing this featureless piece of glass,' he explained.

Yes, every time you nervously rub your mojito glass in a bar while talking to your date, she is thinking that you are worthlessly fey.

Pausing to consider this troubling notion, I remembered that Google actually sells smartphones. So here was the company's co-founder insisting that it was selling products that make men drippy.

It reminded me of Gerald Ratner, the head of a jewelry chain that bore his name, who last century called his own products "crap." It didn't help his business.

It's one thing for Brin and his co-founder Larry Page to have disdained advertising for so long. It's quite another to openly insist that the things you sell will make men weedy.

New tagline: Nexus 4. It'll Make You Weak At The Knees. And Elsewhere.

It may well be that Google's executives find media contact tiresome, so they offer words that are ill thought-through.

But these people are allegedly deep thinkers. They're the very souls building our tomorrow, whether we like it or not.

They're also admirers of Steve Jobs, who wasn't often exactly candid when speaking with the outside world. Perhaps they think they're mischievously walking and talking in his wake.

The impression it leaves is that one shouldn't take their words to heart. Which is rather heartening. It leaves open far more possibilities

It means Google might buy the current Macy's store in New York's Herald Square and turn it into the world's biggest gadget retail experience, like a monstrous Disney World for gadgets.

It means the company might favor Motorola heavily in the future. It might launch self-driving golf carts and helicopters. It might even set up a new Asian HQ in North Korea.

And it might also launch a smartphone that makes you feel like a real man.

 

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