I’ve been bearish about Google in the last 8 – 12 months and made a few jokes at the expense of these glasses, the driverless car, the asteroid colony investment (which I think was a personal investment by Page and Brin), and other side projects like the wind farms in Oregon.
The people who laugh at these investments characterize them as Google having a lack of focus.
There’s some truth to that – especially when they’re in so many of these kinds of ventures. It’s hard when you spread yourself too thin.
But when you see a funny picture of an eccentric young billionaire walking around to nightclubs or with Robert Scoble wearing what look like Terminator glasses, you might be forgiven for thinking this guy has lost it. It’s easy to say this is yet another sign that Google has its head in the clouds instead of running the company for the benefit of increased value for shareholders.
However, I’m here to tell you that the Google co-founders and the rest of the company are doing exactly the right thing by investing in this project. Here’s why.
Hit the jump to read the rest, courtesy of Forbes.com.[expand title=”More” swaptitle=”Less” trigpos=”below”]
The Google search engine is the best at what it does. Its business model (AdWords and then AdSense) is the best business model ever in my view. Google keeps investing in improving the search experience and they continue to do a super job at that.
However, I’ve argued here many times that search’s days are numbered. I think we’re moving into a new generation for Hypernet/Web companies, which I call the mobile generation.
In this generation, everyone’s primary computing device is their smart phone. All popular apps in this generation are optimized for a mobile experience – either on a phone or a tablet. No one even thinks about how the app will work on a desktop PC any more. Those companies don’t get any venture capital funding or splashed on the covers of Fast Company or Wired (the tablet versions of course). Only pure-play mobile companies are deemed to be buzzworthy today.
In this mobile generation – and remember we’re only 2 years into this generation, so we probably have at least another 4 years before the next generation comes – I suspect we’re going to learn a new way to obtain information. Instead of Googling it, I think it’s going to be asking Siri – our personal assistant. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it will be something else, optimized for mobile.
What I do know is that Google has a big problem in that people don’t do as many searches in a mobile world compared to a PC world. More troubling is that those searches don’t monetize nearly as well.
So, Google can keep telling us what YouTube is doing by taking their last quarter’s revenues and annualizing them. They can do the same for their mobile search business and their other small businesses. But when desktop PC search accounts for well over 90% of their revenues as of a couple of years ago and about 98% of their profits, you have a big two word problem if you care about the stock price: multiple contraction.
(And I know some Google bulls will write to me that they will create a voice-activated service that is better than Siri. So, let me say, nothing would make Steve Jobs happier, because you’d be helping steer that many more people who blindly do traditional searches today to instead do searches via voice that monetize that much less profitably for Google. Heads, Apple wins. Tails, Google loses.)
So, let’s say this scenario of a big decline in profitable PC searches is a reasonable possibility. If I was Larry or Sergey, I would be banging the table (or colored bean bags – whatever’s available) in Mountain View asking my team: “How do we stay relevant in a mobile world even if no one does traditional search?” After all, as Andy Grove said, only the paranoid survive. And I’d expect we’d be busy working on a couple of answers to that question.
I don’t know about driverless cars. The more I read about it, the cooler I think it is. And it’s certainly something that can be monetized and probably will. In fact, I don’t have a hard time seeing this as a much bigger business than YouTube in the long-term – or maybe a business that gets spun-out of Google at some point. But, it’s obviously very different than mobile phones and search (although I suspect Larry and Sergey would say something like it’s just another complex problem solved by an algorithm — hammer, meet nail).
Google Glasses (or Project Glass) on the other hand could be enormously important. Like “save the company” important — or at least take it to a whole new level of relevancy and prominence. Why?
I know the glasses look goofy and Sergey looks like the ultimate nerd wearing them now to our modern-day sensibilities. However, this is generation-one.
Do you remember the first generation of Android phones? They were very ugly and looked like cheap BlackBerry knock-offs — they were!
But think of how far Android has come in the 7 years since Google bought it (for an insignificant amount). Now think of what Google Glasses will look like in 7 years. You can’t imagine the progress, because the technology world is going to move so much faster in the next 7 years compared to the prior 7.
To me, it’s very easy to imagine how Goggles could be the next big thing for us.
Forget a Post-PC world. Google’s playing for a Post-Phone world. I give these guys enormous props for their foresight.
It’s all about skating to where the puck is going and Google Glasses could be it.
I don’t expect others to just sit back and wait. I haven’t seen the full video yet, but I believe Apple’s (AAPL) Tim Cook was asked about “wearable computers” last night at the All Things D
conference and I believe he didn’t dismiss the idea, which probably means Apple has some very capable people on the case.
I’m sure most people on Wall Street, who can’t see further than the ends of their noses, think Glasses is a vanity project of Sergey and Larry. It’s them who are the short-sighted idiots though.
It’s very hard to predict exactly the way the world will unfold and prepare your $40 billion company to take advantage of it, but Glasses is a very wise investment.
Don’t be surprised if you hear more about a Post-Phone world in the next 18 – 24 months.
Times they are a -changing.[Long AAPL]
PS I haven’t read it yet, but I see Kashmir Hill has written about Google’s Project Glass today, so here’s a link.[/expand]