Dispense with the pretense: Google's gunning for Apple

All the signs point to one inescapable conclusion: Google's getting into hardware, and its crosshairs are on Cupertino.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
3 min read

C'mon, Google, admit it: You're getting into hardware, and you're gunning for Apple.

With more signs pointing to a Google entertainment device of some sort somewhere over the horizon, the company's recent FCC filing offers the latest hint of what's become an inescapable conclusion. The document echoes what Google has hinted, announcing in black and white that the company iis developing a prototype "entertainment device" of some sort.

As to the details:

Testing will include functional testing of all subsystems, including WiFi and Bluetooth radio. Users will connect their device to home WiFi networks and use Bluetooth to connect to other home electronics equipment. This line of testing will reveal real world engineering issues and reliability of networks. The device utilizes a standard WiFi/Bluetooth module, and the planned testing is not directed at evaluating the radio frequency characteristics of the module (which are known), but rather at the throughput and stability of the home WiFi networks that will support the device, as well as the basic functionality of the device.

A couple of other clues:last spring Google gave developers at the Google I/O conference a peek at Android@Home devices playing music. And of course, there's that $12.5 billion deal to buy Motorola Mobility which is just about to close.

Still, there's no shortage of doubters. Matt Rosoff has an interesting post at Business Insider listing all the reasons Google's foray into hardware is destined to fail. He revisits all the right points about why Apple's been so successful transforming itself from a PC maker to a broad supplier of products and services for consumers. But he takes a dim view of Google's chances, based on its mediocre record up to date.

Fair enough. Google TV, unveiled in 2010, was supposed to be a unique way of bring the World Wide Web into the living room. Outside of the folks living in the Googleplex, it's hard to find anyone who doesn't believe the service has been a big disappointment. (It got a redesign last fall.)

But let's not be too quick to count Google out. Check out what my colleague Larry Dignan has to say about the import of the Motorola deal where he notes that while Google may not know hardware, Motorola surely does.

Motorola is bringing a large installed base of cable set-top boxes to the party. There are two set-top box players--Cisco and Motorola. Motorola Mobility brings home IP video, home digital video and home networking tools. In other words, Google will already have a big footprint in your living room as soon as the Motorola deal closes.

It remains unclear whether Google and Motorola can get the idiot proof integration done that the living room requires. But Google will have hardware expertise via Motorola. If Google's home entertainment foray works the Motorola purchase--and the profit margin pressure that comes with it--may be justified.

It's worth the gamble. Just this week Kodak reminded the world what happens when a super-dominant company clings too long to a fading business model.

There's nothing remotely bad about milking the search advertising business for all it's worth--and it's worth a lot. But nobody can guarantee it will remain as lucrative a decade or two from now. One thing you can bank on: People will still be watching entertainment in their living rooms in the year 2022--probably in 2032 as well.

Unlike most companies contemplating this sharp a change, Google has the resources to roll with it. If it fails, it's a one-time writeoff. If it succeeds, Google sheds the one-trick pony label and broadens its business beyond search in a big way. What's not to like?