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Google In 2014: 10 Predictions

2013 proved a great year for Google. Will 2014 be even better?

So what about 2014? It will be an interesting year because the major Internet technology companies are all doing more or less the same thing. To differentiate itself, Google will need to do something bold. Here's what I think might happen.

1. Google launches Chromepad
Google's Chromebook Pixel demonstrates that Chrome OS supports touch events. Google has had a design concept for a Chrome OS tablet on its website for ages. At least one Google engineer has been openly discussing the possibility.

2. Google launches Nexus smartwatch
You don't buy a maker of smartwatches like Wimm Labs without planning to get into the business. Given the way Google Now works, a Google smartwatch makes sense. The watch -- more of a wrist-mounted display than a timepiece -- will connect with Google's indoor location technology to help stores pinpoint wearers and to deliver Google Offers. If supported by ads, the device could be offered for very little or for free, in exchange for the location data. There will also be a Nexus TV set-top box.

3. Google Glass becomes clip-on accessory
As can be seen from this recent Glass post, Glass hardware will eventually be able to clip onto eyeglass frames. This makes much more sense than affixing the operative hardware -- a video camera, processor, sensors, and screen -- to a fixed-form frame that doesn't fold. Doing so will take the glass component out of Glass, but that's okay -- Google is concerned about screens, not lenses. Perhaps Google thought about "Google Eye" as a possible name for a video capture and display product that's distinct from glass lenses, but nixed the name for being too sinister.

4. Google invests in auto technology
Having committed itself to the robotics business in a big way, Google will expand its focus on hardware to automotive systems, as its self-driving cars move closer to deployment. It will partner with automakers to provide them with better technology in exchange for access to the data. Its interest in robots points to manufacturing more than to the consumer market.

5. Google begins retail push
This year's Google Winter Wonderland pop-up stores will become the template for more permanent kiosks next year, as Google finally opens its barge showrooms to the public in Spring 2014. Google will move cautiously as it gathers data on what works and what doesn't.

6. Google offers rides in its driverless cars
In order to get people to accept self-driving cars, Google will expose the public to its new robot chauffeurs. Google will partner with Disney, Universal Studios, or some hospitality brand name to allow people to take brief trips on a closed track. These engagements will be very limited, and might be auctioned off at charity events. But the goal will be to lay the groundwork for operating a self-driving car on a specific route, like from some hotel on the Las Vegas strip to the Las Vegas airport.

7. Google continues trimming Motorola Mobility, but plans to keep it
Motorola Mobility may be a financial albatross around Google's neck, but it comes with some useful tax losses and has real strategic potential. Worries that Google's ownership of Motorola will alienate hardware partners have been muted the fact that Microsoft is now in the hardware business too.

8. Oracle wins Java copyright appeal, Google appeals to Supreme Court
Judge Alsup's decision that programming APIs are not subject to copyright protection is the correct one. But the courts are populated by legal minds rather than technical ones. Chances are the judges on the appeals court will misunderstand the implications of copyrighted APIs and Google will have to appeal to the Supreme Court.

9. Google settles EU antitrust complaint
While Google's foes will not be satisfied, the company will strike a deal with the European Commission. It will disavow agreements that limit access to other ad platforms, will constrain its ability to promote its own properties when they compete with third-parties, and will pay a fine. But it won't abandon its right to define relevancy or to run its business as it sees fit. In the end, Google won't have to change very much, but it will do so gradually anyway, to keep pace with mobile market innovation.

10. Chrome will become more important than Android
Android provided a defense against Apple and Microsoft, and a stake in the heart of BlackBerry and Nokia. It ensured Google and its services remained accessible and widely used. But Android has problems. It's less secure than Chrome. It's based on Java, which is now controlled by Oracle. It's more expensive than it needs to be, thanks to patent licensing fees. It is distributed lackadaisically by Google's partners, who don't seem to care about ensuring customers are running the most recent version. It can be subverted, as Amazon has demonstrated, and as Nokia may do, if its Android phone sees the light of day.

At the time Android was created, Google's engineers deemed Java to be the only serious development platform available for mobile devices. Today, we have Mozilla's Firefox OS as proof that Java isn't necessary, we have Google's Portable Native Client and Mozilla's asm.js, and we see PayPal switching from Java to JavaScript, in the form of Node.js. Web technologies are finally ready to fulfill Google's 2009 claim that the Web has won. With the arrival of homescreen-installed Chrome apps for Android and stand-alone Chrome Web apps for Linux, OS X, and Windows, Android is a lot less necessary. The arrival of Chrome Web apps for mobile next year will make it even less so. That could mean a Chrome OS phone in 2014, or it could simply mean the beginning of a multi-year plan to put Android into maintenance mode while Chrome development accelerates and eventually eclipses Android.

 

Thomas Claburn is editor-at-large for InformationWeek. He has been writing about business and technology since 1996 for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. He is the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and his mobile game Blocfall Free is available for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire.

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