It may be hard to imagine a world without Google, and the tech giant is working hard to keep it that way. They have perfected the art of search advertising on desktop and laptop, and it controls the widely used Android mobile OS, as well as YouTube and Nest. But is the company nimble enough to capitalize on the next best thing in tech?
Some tech industry observers aren’t sure.
Have we reached “Peak Google,” or will they continue to grow? While it is impossible to know the future, there is evidence for both eventualities. Here, first, are three reasons why Google should be concerned about the future.
- Trouble mastering mobile. Google has perfected the art of direct-response advertising alongside search results. About 90% of the company’s revenue comes from this lucrative exercise. However, as smartphones and mobile computing push time spent on desktop and laptop computers to the sidelines, Google has grappled with how to remain an advertising powerhouse. The company has notoriously struggled with mobile advertising, while rival Facebook has seen more success. In a world centered on a fragmented mobile advertising market, Google could suffer.
- The perils of incessant experimentation. The “throw it up against a wall and see what sticks” method. Good for testing spaghetti, sending out college applications, and … for technological innovation? Google seems to think so. The company has famously introduced a myriad of now-defunct services — ones that didn’t pan out as expected such as Google Wave and, more recently, Google Helpouts. This kind of innovation is bold, and not a bad strategy so long as something does, eventually, stick. Specifically, something profitable. But there are no guarantees, and some draw parallels between Google X, the research lab responsible for Google Glass, driverless cars, etc., and Microsoft Research. In both cases resources have been directed toward lots of flashy ideas that, in many cases, ultimately lack in financial follow-through. Of course, Google CEO Larry Page has famously prescribed that the company will now put “more wood behind fewer arrows,” meaning that Google will place more focus on its key projects. Still, those arrows need to be chosen carefully, and investors are worried that an excess of Google’s attentions are directed toward ancillary aspects of the company.
- The ebb and flow of power. The final reason Google may decline is more esoteric, but somehow sensible. As Ben Thompson, tech strategist and blogger, comments: “When a company becomes dominant, its dominance precludes it from dominating the next thing. It’s almost like a natural law of business.” Essentially, an industry giant lacks the maneuverability of a younger company, perhaps a startup.
But there are reasons to believe that Google’s future is bright. Here are three:
- Money, money, money. Google is hugely wealthy. The company posted $14.4 billion in profits in 2014, up about 12 percent from 2013. While a look behind the numbers unveils a more complicated reality, the fact remains that this kind of income allows Google to invest in innovation, even for a product or service that may not pan out.
- A high premium placed on innovation. The Google workplace culture is renowned for the concept of “20 percent time.” This is the idea that, for 20 percent of the time they spend at work, Google engineers are encouraged to pursue independent passion projects. The results of this ethos can be seen in successful projects such as AdSense and Gmail. The reality of whether this 20 percent is truly integrated, or only possible in addition to an employee’s normal schedule, is a topic of contention among current and former workers and the management. However, spending time working on more than day-to-day projects is an important value that sets Google apart. If any company seems likely to buck the “natural law of business” trend mentioned above, it would be a company with these priorities.
- Smart acquisitions. Google bought Android in 2005 as a way to secure a foothold in the mobile market. In 2006, Google picked up YouTube, the popular online video site. And in 2014, Google acquired Nest, a company that has developed a smart home thermostat and smoke detector. Android is the most widely used operating system in the world; YouTube is a powerful road into the mobile advertising market; and Nest, with Google’s expertise, appears to have a lot of potential to lead home automation. This is another benefit of the deep pockets of Google — the ability to buy into a promising market.
Google has a lot of strengths, making it hard to imagine that the company has started its decline. Of course, no one is suggesting that Google will cease to be relevant overnight. As Farhad Manjoo writes in The New York Times, “Technology giants often meet their end not with a bang but a whimper, a slow, imperceptible descent into irrelevancy.” While Google won’t disappear, it might not lead the charge into our technological future either.
Apple may be taking a big risk by wading into the automobile market, but that it may be an essential one for a company that must keep moving forward or risk being left in the dust by competitors.
Rumors have the $700 billion company looking at getting into the automotive business, and that the company has already assembled a large team of experts to work on the project.
An “iCar” by 2020 may mesh well with the company’s core competencies of redefining everyday products such as music players, smartphones, and eventually watches. Apple may have decided that cars is the next logical place to go, and the company certainly has a lot of pressure to continue to take bold new steps, especially with developments by competitors such as Google creating their own self-driving cars.
It won’t be a decision to be taken lightly, and Apple certainly has time to back out. Former General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz noted in the report that it would take enormous capital to launch an automotive product, and the industry typically doesn’t have big profit margins. It seemed strange to him that Apple would go into a business where, at best, Apple can expect a 5 or 6 percent margin, and in bad times, it will cost the company a great deal of money.
And it’s more than just the capital. There are a huge amount of state and regulatory obstacles to overcome, as well as global hurdles such as engineering a car to drive on the right-hand side. Most likely, Apple would jump into the electric car market, as Tesla has. It’s not clear whether it would also seek to go for automation as Google has.
Tesla may be an example of why Apple might want to think twice. The automaker has burned through lots of money in the past 10 years and have sold just 35,000 cars in the last year. Apple is not likely to be happy with similar figures.
What do you think? Would Apple fare well in this new endeavor?
Security researchers at Kaspersky Lab have unearthed a suite of surveillance platforms that can hide within the firmware of hard drives from more than a dozen manufacturers. The attackers, which Kaspersky is calling the Equation Group due to their complex skill set, are the most advanced that the researchers have encountered to date.
The programs, some of which date back to 2001, appear to have been developed in succession with each new program being more sophisticated than the last. Personal computers in more than 30 different countries have been discovered to carry the infection.
One of the worms uncovered has direct connections with Stuxnet and may have even been used as a test to help figure out the best route for the malware to reach systems involved in Iran’s nuclear program. Researchers didn’t name who they believe might be behind the attacks although there’s a good bit of circumstantial evidence that points to the NSA.
One component of the suite, GrayFish, is able to re-flash the firmware on hard drives. Because it resides in the firmware, reformatting the drive doesn’t get rid of the infection. Key to being able to rewrite the firmware is having access to source code. If the NSA is indeed behind the attacks, getting source code wouldn’t present too much of an issue.
In addition to physically intercepting shipments (in this case, hard drives) and loading them with malware before repackaging and sending to targets, the NSA could have simply asked manufacturers for their source code (directly or indirectly) or posed as software developers.
Will written, check. Funeral plans set, check. But there is something else you didn’t think you would need to do before you die; give someone permission to respond to comments, post photos, etc. on your Facebook account.
The world’s biggest online social network said Thursday that it will now let users pick someone who can manage their account after they die. Previously, the accounts were “memorialized” after death, or locked so that no one could log in.
But Facebook says its users wanted more choice. Beginning in the U.S., Facebook users can pick a “legacy contact” to post on their page after they die, respond to new friend requests and update their profile picture and cover photo. Users can also have their accounts deleted after their death, which was not possible before.
Facebook accounts are memorialized at the request of loved ones, who must provide proof of the person’s death, such as an obituary. Facebook tries to ensure that the account of the dead user doesn’t show up as a “suggested friend” or in other ways that could upset the person’s loved ones.
The social media giant has nearly 1.4 billion users, and won’t say how many accounts are memorialized, though Facebook product manager Vanessa Callison-Burch said there have been “hundreds of thousands” of requests from loved ones to do so.
Other Internet companies also offer ways to posthumously manage your accounts. On Google, a tool called “inactive account manager” lets you choose to have your data deleted after three, six or 12 months of inactivity. Or you can choose someone, such as a parent or a spouse, to receive the data. The tool covers not just email but also other Google services such as Google Plus, YouTube and Blogger.
Twitter, meanwhile, will deactivate your account if contacted by a family member or a person authorized to act on behalf of your estate, after verifying not only that you died but that the Twitter account is yours, since many people don’t use their full names on the site.
Google says they will be working with an independent group of doctors from the Mayo Clinic to curate accurate and sensible information about a wide range of health topics and conditions, going further than the thin outline they currently present. Even if the top of the search results is packed with content schilling for the drug barons the Knowledge Graph to the right will give you a sane and trustworthy block of detailed independent information as opposed to marketing hyperbole. It’s a great idea.
You might be wanting to go to another room if you don’t want Samsung’s Smart TV’s to record your personal conversations. They don’t just respond to your commands – they will also tell a third party what you’re saying while you sit in from of them.
So far, so mostly-reasonable: if a TV had enough CPU grunt to do voice recognition it could push the price into nasty territory. A cloud-assist feature could be messy, but not terrifying, not least because bigger samples will probably make for bigger improvements in voice recognition. Next comes the admission that “In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features.”
That’s far less comfortable, as it suggests Samsung can identify individuals. If it’s matching MAC addresses, that’s not terrifying. If it depends on logins … yikes! Samsung can identify you and the stuff you say to your TV!
It gets worse in this final sentence:
“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.” And let’s not even begin to ponder how the sets’ cameras and fitness services might use that data, or the conclusions they would draw, if a program moves to amorous activity on the sofa.
Worse still, this all happens even if you don’t turn voice recognition on, as Samsung says: “If you do not enable Voice Recognition, you will not be able to use interactive voice recognition features, although you may be able to control your TV using certain predefined voice commands. While Samsung will not collect your spoken word, Samsung may still collect associated texts and other usage data so that we can evaluate the performance of the feature and improve it.”
The recent furor over the measles outbreak illustrates almost perfectly a fault lines which runs through our society. For what is supposedly the worlds most right and powerful country we are mind-blowingly stupid about some issues. I’m a foreigner…I chose to move my life to the US and I’m very happy that I have. I love this country…but good lord people! I have no idea where it comes from but there is a fiercely anti science/common sense thread which runs deep in our society. It typically doesn’t do much more than cause debates over well established science like evolution and the existence of angels (more Americans believe in angels than evolution) but the measles outbreak clearly illustrates that it can cause real harm also. Between 2001 and 2011 the median number of measles reported per year in the US was 62. This year one month in it’s 102. That seems to put us on track for a 20x the norm year. There are third world countries with higher inoculation rates than the US.
The mere fact that there is absolutely no credible scientific fact to support not immunizing doesn’t seem to matter. This is even becoming a political issue with lunatics on both the right and left are using immunization as a totem for their brand of selfishness. It beggars belief that supposedly educated people can be so blinded by a quasi religious rights/civil liberties concoction of complete garbage. I’m old enough that I actually had measles, and German measles and chicken pox the hard way as a kid. some of my earliest memories are from the misery those diseases caused. I’m also asthmatic so it’s lucky I didn’t get killed by complications.
I get that the gun nuts are so powerful that we will have to endure a school shooting per month for the foreseeable future, and I get that we don’t want to curtail any aspect of our society in-order to mitigate climate change…but we are killing our children through this blind ignorant anti science nonsense. If we make the mistake of further politicizing this issue the various factions will dig in, it will become like every other issues which are regarded as settled law in most civilized countries and we will kill more of our kids. If you have any doubt at all watch this video. Penn and teller (as always) hit the nail right on the head. Not immunizing our children is Bullshit and we should stop the madness.