Google is working on building multiple new devices to keep pushing its globally dominant Android OS beyond smartphones and tablets. It’s building its own games console and a smart watch that would connect with a smartphone via Bluetooth, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal which cites “people familiar with the matter”. Mountain View is also reportedly lining up a second version of the Nexus Q Android-powered media-streaming gadget which it unveiled at I/O last year, and gave to attendees, but never sold to the public after issues with production led to the release being delayed indefinitely.
As well as seeking to spread Android’s smartphone momentum to other device types, Google making its own hardware is intended to counter possible similar device launches by Apple, according to the paper’s sources. The sources say Google is hoping to design and market all these new Android-powered gadgets itself — and is aiming to release at least one of them this fall.
On the games console side, Google moving into making its own hardware is in part a reaction to its expectations that Apple will launch a videogame console as part of its next Apple TV product release. One of the WSJ’s sources also cited the momentum behind the Ouya Android-powered games console as another source of inspiration. The $99 console, which started out as a Kickstarter concept and went on to raise a whopping $8.6 million in crowdsourced funding — and subsequently raised a $15 million VC funding round (led by Kleiner Perkins) – went on general release this week.
The games console aspect of the WSJ‘s report also resonates with a tip we received back in April, that Google was working on a Nexus-branded Kinect-style gaming console. We were unable to confirm this at the time, and the WSJ’s sources make no mention of gesture-based controls. Google declined to comment on “rumors or speculation” at the time.
The WSJ also says Google is preparing to push Android onto even lower cost smartphone hardware. Its sources say the next release of Android — presumably the Key Lime Pie flavour — will be “better tailored to the lower-cost smartphones prevalent in developing countries with the aim of firming up Android’s market-share globally”. This could also be in preparation for a Cupertino push into the lower mid-tier, following the myriad rumours it’s readying a low cost iPhone.
But it’s not just the software that Google is making here either. According to the WSJ, Google has been developing its own low-cost Android smartphones for developing markets too — including markets where Google has plans to fund or help create high speed wireless networks aimed at bringing high speed Internet connectivity to regions lacking next gen wired infrastructure. (Presumably see also its balloon-powered Project Loon efforts here.) Perhaps Google has been unhappy with the quality of low end Android-powered devices made by its OEMs. Or wants to increase the number of devices at this price-point that include its services. Many lower cost Androids, especially in countries like China, don’t include Google services — shutting it out of any revenue generation.
Other device types that Google plans to “aggressively” target with the next iteration of Android include laptops, wearables and appliances such as refrigerators, according to the WSJ. It plans to do this by giving Android OEMs greater freedom in where they use the platform, the paper says. It notes that PC makers including HP are already working on Android-powered laptops (specifically laptops, rather than tablet devices with detachable keyboards) running the next version of Google’s mobile OS — and says these computing devices would be designed to compete with full-fat Microsoft Windows.
Google getting into making more of its own hardware seems inevitable, given that both Apple and now Microsoft — with Surface — are taking that route. With Android so dominant in the smartphone space Google doesn’t have to worry too much about treading on the toes of its own OEMs — especially if its hardware focus is on newer device types, rather than eating into their mid- and high end smartphone businesses.
By pushing out new types of Android-powered hardware itself Google may also expedite similar releases from its OEMs, in effect seeding new markets with Android to encourage faster development and try to lock Apple out before it’s ready to launch its own iWatch et al.