Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Google PowerMeter is one of many Google side projects that don't often get a lot of attention, but PowerMeter is slowly growing to become a bit more than just a hobby for the search giant. Today, Google announced that it has partnered with Current Cost, the largest global supplier of real-time displays for monitoring energy use. Starting today, Current Cost will allow its users in the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand to send data about their power consumption directly to Google PowerMeter.
In the U.K., Google and Current Cost have also teamed up with E.ON, the country's largest utility company, to supply E.ON customers with free "Energy Fit" starter packs that include a free energy monitor. PowerMeter is part of Google.org, the company's philanthropic arm.
Tools like Current Cost's devices allow consumers to monitor how much energy they use in real-time. PowerMeter can get this data directly from utilities that use Internet-connected smart meters and from partners like Current Cost that develop hardware devices that can monitor any house's energy use.
More than Just a Side Project
Until now, PowerMeter mostly looked like a side-project for Google, but the inclusion of Current Cost in its partner ecosystem makes it clear that the company is indeed taking this market seriously. Currently, however, only small number of utilities have partnered directly with Google. It has also signed up a number of hardware developers that offer real-time energy monitoring, including The Energy Detective and AlertMe.
Earlier this year, Google also launched an API for PowerMeter that allows hardware manufacturers to create appliances that include PowerMeter as a built-in feature. Current Cost is using the API to send its data to Google.
Google has long been highly interested in energy projects and even made a number of investments in alternative energy companies recently. With Hohm, Microsoft has also launched a similar initiative, though Microsoft's emphasis is more on giving users tips to save energy and less on real-time monitoring.
Google I/O 2010 Round-Up - The biggest announcements of this year's developer conference - Softpedia
So now we're apparently in a Google versus Apple fight to the death. Google open-sources VP8 (now WebM), and Steve Jobs immediately throws cold water on it. Apple got their share of scorn at Google's I/O conference. Google thinks they have mobile/cloud/desktop integration nailed--and if what they demo'd last week actually works in FroYo (Android 2.2), they probably do.
But the notion that this is a "fight to the death" is a bit bizarre, even though it's been portrayed that way, and by none other than Steve Jobs, who earlier this year said that Google is out to kill the iPhone. If it is a battle, the terms are uneven.
My own disclosures: I'm definitely a Google fan. And I'm also an iPad-equipped Apple fan, though I am also very unhappy with the closedness of the Apple platform, and the way they treat their developers. But they make beautiful hardware, and they really understand "it just works."
Vic Gundotra nailed it in his second keynote at Google I/O. When he was starting at Google, he asked Andy Rubin why Android was important; why did the world need one more mobile platform? Andy's answer was that Google had a very dismal future if they didn't address
mobile; we'd end up with one platform, controlled by one vendor, and one carrier. It was a wise and prophetic answer. If I've pieced the chronology together correctly, this would be about the time the iPhone was coming online. And the iPhone is a great device--great, but ultimately closed.
Apple makes hardware, and the more hardware they sell, the more money they make. So Apple clearly wins if they sell iPhones to everyone--the more iPhones (and iPads), the more they win. There would be nothing better for them than driving the other smartphone manufacturers out of the market. (They don't seem to be interested in low-end, low profit margin phones, but that's another story.) So what it takes for Apple to win is clear: dominance of the smartphone market.
Google's stakes are different. They don't make money from selling phones, and they even abandoned their retail NexusOne store with very little pain. They don't make money from licensing software either, as far as I know. Google makes money from selling ads. And the more ads they sell, the happier they are. Apple is fighting for market share in cellphones; Google is fighting for market share in ad placement.
This asymmetry is very important. Google does not have to dominate the smartphone business; they just have to make sure that there's an environment in which the business of selling ads thrives. While Apple wants to dominate smartphones, Google undeniably dominates online ad sales--and they clearly see ad placement on mobile as a huge opportunity. Conversely, failure to dominate mobile ad sales would be disastrous. At best, it would limit their potential; at worst, if we're heading for the end of the "desktop/laptop era", it could seriously threaten their core business.
Making money selling mobile ads requires that Google keep the smartphone market open, plural, competitive. As long as there are multiple smartphones in the market, content developers will be driven towards open standards like HTML5. Developers will build richer and richer HTML content for the phones--and Google will thrive in its core business, placing ads on HTML pages. Google doesn't need to "win"; they just need to "not lose", to keep the game open, and to drive open technologies to the next level where they can compete successfully. In the long run, a closed system can only thrive if it's the only player in the game. If we've learned one thing from the growth of the Internet, it's that open standards that can be implemented by many vendors trumps closed systems, and enables the kind of competition that drives out monopolies.
Just as an athlete will inevitably perform better when he's relaxed and not worried about losing, Google's big advantage in the smartphone wars may well be precisely that they don't need to win. Googlers are justifiably proud that US Android sales have snuck ahead of iPhone sales. Of course, that's 50-odd phones available for all US carriers, versus two iPhone models available only from AT&T. And when the iPhone 4 comes out, Apple will certainly see a big burst of sales. But that's not what's really important to Google; all they need to do is keep the game open, for themselves, Palm/HP, RIM, and the other smartphone vendors--and to establish the kinds of standards that enable a competitive market to thrive.
There is a real threat to Apple, though; just because Google doesn't need to win smartphone dominance doesn't mean they wouldn't like to. And in the wake of their FroYo demos at I/O, that seems increasingly likely. Dan Lyons (Fake Steve Jobs) makes a lot of good points in his Newsweek blog:
- Google's technology is way ahead of anything Apple is offering, or likely to offer. Streaming music from your desktop is only one example. Google, not Apple, is offering what customers want.
- Apple's response to Google's claim that they are shipping more phones was "so what, we have more market share." Lyons says he's heard that before, it's the song of a company that's losing and in denial. I've heard it too. Lyons is right.
- It's easy to think that Apple fell apart in the late 80s and early 90s because a clueless Pepsi exec booted Jobs and took over. But the real story, if you're old enough to remember, is that Jobs mismanaged the company after a series of stellar technical triumphs. History appears to be repeating itself.
I am genuinely sad about this; Apple is a great innovative company. There's no reason they can't do everything Google is doing. Analyzing each players' strengths, Apple really understands user experience and design. They have a lock on that. Google really understands cloud computing and connectivity. However, it will probably be easier for Apple to get up to speed on the connectivity issues than for Google to get Apple's design sensibility. Nothing Google is adding to Android is fundamentally that difficult, and Apple has no shortage of engineering talent.
But--and this is important--Apple will not be able to take Google on in the areas of connectivity and cloud computing as long as they insist on a closed platform. Not because Google's FroYo features can't be implemented on a closed platform, but because it just wouldn't occur to you to do so. Furthermore, you can only go so far telling customers that you know what's best for them. I hate Flash almost as much as Steve Jobs, but you know what? If I were building a platform, supporting Flash would be a requirement. Flash is everywhere. Getting tied up in a pointless fight with Adobe is silly. Vic's daughter is right: she wants the toy that can run her favorite online games. That's going to be an Android phone, not an iPad or an iPhone. Apple is insisting on playing the game in a way that they can only lose.
Having said that, why is Apple so interested in HTML5? Why are they supporting it with almost as much energy as Google? I think Steve Jobs really understands that HTML5 is the "right thing" for the future of the web. Apple is not going to drop native applications. But Jobs has always had an uncanny sense of when things are done right.
Although Google doesn't need to "win" the battle with Apple, Apple's hysteria, along with its insistence on fighting the wrong battles, means that Google has a decent chance of winning. HTML5 may be Apple's last chance to change their ways, and make decisions that aren't dictated by their desire to control the platform. If they don't, they will lose, and that would be tragic, both for Apple and for users.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
You're concerned about your online privacy, and you do all the right things to keep from being tracked around the Web: purge your cookies regularly, clean out Flash "supercookies," even switch to browsers like Browzar, which lets you "search and surf the web without leaving traces on your computer." Doesn't matter—your browser is giving you away.
Updated at 9:30 PM PST with comment from Google. Google posted an unlisted video to YouTube tonight showing details of a 2.0 version of its Feed API, a simple tool for displaying recent headlines from a syndicated feed on any web page. The new version will accept real-time PubSubHubbub feeds and will publish new headlines to a site visitor's browser within seconds of their being published to the feed.
This new version turns the Feed API from cool to super-cool. It's a good example of the way much of the web is likely to go in the near-term future. No more refreshing pages to see when new content is available - the real-time web comes to you live, nearly instantly as soon as it's published.
The URL for more information, http://code.google.com/apis/feed/push, isn't live yet. This will probably be one of the things announced later this week at the Google I/O developers' conference.
This Spring we reported that Google has plans to transform its index of the web with the addition of real-time feed consumption, in addition to the standard spider crawl it has used for years. Last year, Google Reader began offering real-time feeds of user feedback to Reader items, but that was outbound and not a case of Google consuming real-time feeds.
Google Buzz supports both inbound and outbound PubSubHubbub feeds. It plans on offering read/write API access via Hubbub in the future.
The inclusion of Hubbub consumption into the Feed API may seem like a small move, but put in the larger context of Google moving toward real-time it appears more significant. It will also likely seem like a significant change to the publishers and web users who come in contact with the API's pushed content.
Update: Google contacted us after publishing this story and confirmed that the technology would be unveiled at Google I/O this week. Interested parties should attend this session Wednesday morning. Google says that the Feed API is one of its most popular APIs and that the new version will be rolled out slowly starting next week.
We were also told that Google software engineer Brett Bavar decided to build the technology after being inspired by the ReadWrite Real-Time Web Summit in October. That's pretty awesome to hear and might persuade the savvy reader to consider attending our next Real-Time Web Summit on June 11th in New York City.Discuss
It's widely expected that Google will unveil the latest version of Android, 2.2 (codenamed "Froyo"), at Google I/O which starts on Wednesday. The update is promising big things including huge performance improvements, tethering, and the ability to create your own WiFi hotspots with your phone. Another huge feature is expected to be the integration of Flash 10.1, a version finally optimized to run on mobile devices. And Google is apparently going to be highlighting the feature the moment you update to 2.2.
From what we hear, Android users with phones eligible for the 2.2 upgrade (Nexus One, Droid, and soon, HTC Evo) will be greeted with a link to an Adobe Mobile website after the upgrade. This page will give you the option to "View Flash enabled websites" or "Get Adobe products." If you click on the first link, you'll get a full list of sites Adobe is featuring that take advantage of Flash 10.1. These sites include Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, BBC, Google Finance, and a whole range of others.
In fact, the list of sites is already live for both the Nexus One and the Droid. What's odd is that the list is different depending on what device you're using (Droid shows many fewer sites). I have no idea why that is, but maybe that will change before the launch.
This list seems to be a direct response to Apple's list of sites that are optimized to run on the iPad — meaning, they don't use Flash. It's an obvious thing for Adobe to do, but the most interesting aspect is that Google will apparently promote it. Clearly, they believe Flash support will be a big selling point of Android phones versus iPhones. And Google is also working with Adobe to bake Flash into its Chrome browser (and yet, soon Chrome OS too).
In case it wasn't clear, the war between Google and Apple is on. And Google is moving fast to ensure that Adobe is one of its soldiers.