Thursday, February 1, 2007

Google and Apple in Your TV?

Blog the Globe – A Fringe Interest?

- How many really want a system for sharing information stored at geographic locations and a way of browsing this info using location-aware mobile phones? This cannot generate a lot of profit. Isn't it more likely that Googles recent investments in internet bandwidth points to future online film, TV and video distribution? The really big bucks must be in TV advertising and well targeted TV Ads.

Well, Google is definitely going in that direction (Google CEO wants $74 billion TV ad market), but they have also stated their interest in expanding their advertising into mobiles. Why? There is a lot of mobile phones out there and it is a technology that is very personal. Mobile phones go where their users go and it is very natural for a mobile phone to have personal location-based services.

"Users would be able to post information at a location, hanging in the air, ready to be browsed by people passing by."

It is a perfect match for Google to implement a system for "geobrowsing" with intermixed targeted ad content. All they need to do is put Google Earth or Google map in location-aware phones, toss in some useful georeferenced data they already have, add possibilities for rating, personalization and categorization and enable users to supply georeferenced information directly from the phone. Users would be able to post information at a location, hanging in the air, ready to be browsed by people passing by. The users preferences combined with rating information and other techniques will make sure mostly useful information pops up, along with well targeted ads.

Are Google contemplating doing this? Hard to say, but they are certainly going into mobile advertising and location-based services. There is very rudimentary support for sharing KML files with friends by saving the KML file and mailing it to someone for viewing in Google Earth. You can also use a small subset of KML for sharing favorite locations by uploading the KML file to a website and then either view it in Google Maps or Google Maps for Mobile. You can share information by publishing layers for others to download or post placemarks in Google Earth Community. That's pretty good, but it is all a very manual process. Automate and streamline posting and browsing to make it more user-friendly and add rating and categorization - and Bob's your uncle.

And I cannot see how Google are going to pass on this opportunity. They have already forged ahead in this territory and made Google Earth and Google maps into runaway hits, but Google has not yet seen any massive revenue streams from these areas. That must change.

Something of this sort will eventually have to emerge from the company’s advanced research arm, Google Labs. They already need to implement better techniques for filtering out junk and presenting mostly useful or high quality information in Google Earth. The solution to that problem can be used to tune a mobile location-based service of this sort to the users needs.

- Most people want location-awareness and maps in their phone but they will be hesitant about the idea of location-based ads!

"...this is a whole new field of advertising"

But it is not so much about what we as users think we want. It's about what Google wants - ad revenue. And sure, there is going to be a lot of that in combination with online film, TV and video distribution, but this is a whole new field of advertising that is waiting to be mined by someone and if you are the only one mining it, it is going to be rich vein of gold you can keep for yourself.

Imagine a small business owner in somewhere in USA. A restaurant perhaps. Will he spend his hard earned dollars on internet ads? No. Will he spend a few bucks on ads that target possible customers as they drive by his restaurant? Yes, especially if they are well targeted ads, that match the interests and eating habits of these possible customers.

There are millions small business owners like this all over the globe. Billions of ad dollars out there for Google or someone else to to collect. The technology needed to implement it is already here.

So, will anyone agree to having geolocated ads pop up in this fashion? Yes, if it is not too disruptive and if it is part of a free mobile phone service or if it comes with free maps, a large directory of free points of interest and free turn-by-turn directions.

It will be also be more easily tolerated if the ads come as a part of a service that presents other information that the user finds interesting and practical. It will be accepted if the ads are well targeted and the user feels it's more like information he needs rather than ads. Google can deliver this.

But that's not all they can deliver. They want to move cable television and telephony onto the internet. IM, VOIP, IPTV, Video, film, mobile communication, office applications, maps, location-based services, mail, search – they want to bring all of this together. For the most part free for the user and funded by ads. In this scenario, Google is not going to have any problems finding acceptance for a few well targeted ads that pop up here and there.

What has been called Google sprawl and has been viewed as a problem for Google, is going to come together beautifully when when all this is tied together in an information gathering giant ad-serving network. Google will be everywhere.

- But there isn't enough bandwidth on the internet to handle all of that video traffic!

This bring us to Googles recent huge investments in data server farms, telecom and fiber. It appears as if Google is building a separate high capacity internet.

What is all that for? Only reducing operating costs for Google as they claim themselves? Hardly. Google has seen the future and are investing to prepare for when the future arrives. When the average user hooks up his TV and starts using 40 times more bandwidth, regular ISPs are not going to cope anymore. They already are struggling with handling P2P downloads and YouTube video. Google will come to the rescue. "You need more bandwidth? Ah, how convenient that we can supply you with this. Who could [[cough]] dream of this kind of explosion in network traffic?"

So, is the delivery of video, films and TV the central theme of the Google-Apple collaboration? A collaboration both for content and technology for delivery – Apple's Akamai together with Googles recent massive investments will enable truckloads of information to be shifted.

Google Talk, VOIP and video conferencing is another possibility. Google Talk is compatible with Apples iChat AV messaging and video conferencing application and there has been rumors of video calls or video conferencing abilities in an incarnation of the iPhone.
(Image - Courtesy of Apple)

- But where's the video camera? The iPhone only has a camera lens at the back. That won't work.

Some have pointed to Apple's patent for a technique that allows a camera to be hidden behind a TFT screen, others have claimed that the home button looks suspiciously similar to a video camera lens and that the button may be both a button and a camera.

In this video, reflections can be seen in the home button (at 1:37 and 1:50) that looks strange for a simple button, but makes more sense if it is a combined camera lens and button: (Rex Crumb from MarketWatch interviews Apple's Vice President of iPod marketing, Greg Joswiak)

Oh, and if you are delivering TV, video and film through the internet, why not watch it on the iPhone? No need to use the small amount of memory available on the iPhone for a traditional iTunes-iPod downloading-uploading scheme.

- I thought you said "Video from YouTube through Apple TV is not something revolutionary. It is something grainy and mildly entertaining."

Well, it is, but it can be a lot more. If you change the very nature of how you watch television and go from mass entertainment with little or no variation, which is what we have today, and instead get a very wide variety of content, rated and categorized, enabling you to easily find your favorite content through search and recommendations from friends, and if you get this delivered exactly when you want it, and regardless of where you are, that's not such a bad thing. It might even be called revolutionary. If Apple is going to take a big part in transforming the TV-landscape in collaboration with Google, I don't mind calling it revolutionary, even though some of the content still is going to grainy and mildly interesting.

So my favorite subject, the accumulation of rated, classified and geolocated information, can be seen as just a small tiny part of business, if it ever sees the light of day, compared to the video, film and TV-distribution?

"Geo-ads" is more in line with Googles core business of search engine technology and information indexing coupled with ad delivery. It becomes a powerful mix if Google would have information about your interests gathered from internet searches, your movie or TV watching habits and your geographic location over time.

"Special Crater Pumpkin Pie today. Eat with a view of the Arizona Crater."

"He stops regularly and eats mainly at Asian restaurants, most often in the evening, but appears to eat lunch at home. Watched TV-shows indicates he is interested in geology, meteorites, gemstones and he regularly searches for pumpkin pie recipes."

Serve him this ad when he passes by: "Special Crater Pumpkin Pie today. Eat with a view of the Arizona Crater." Or why not send information about his favorite foods and interests to the restaurants along his normal routes, enabling them to hook him as a regular customer with an irresistible offer as he passes by.

- Hey! Do we really want this?

If you can chose from a life infested with loads of badly targeted ads everywhere you look - or, much much fewer but well targeted ads, and on top of this, you don't have to pay for using your mobile phone, your TV-shows are free etc etc, then I think I would let Google get away with a lot of this information gathering, but you may want to see some very clearly defined limits to it.

So, TV, video and movie distribution will go the same way as music. Will it be Google and Apple or someone else who will end up as the biggest player?

What about Joost? It is free ad-funded internet TV delivered via P2P technologies similar to Skype. It's from the guys behind Kazaa and Skype and is a contender with similar goals for advertising – fewer but better targeted ads.

Joost is not about user supplied video at all. It more like ordinary TV, concentrating on popular content which works best for delivery via P2P-technologies. Oddball, niche or fringe content will not work well in a P2P-system and having a lot of that would require more investments in server technology. Having user supplied video also creates a lot of legal headaches and the Joost team are very familiar with these type of problems from the Kazaa experience.

Google has been very aggressive in the online video arena. They bought YouTube, possibly to protect its investments in Google Video. YouTube was beating Google to the market it wanted and they had to buy YouTube. The same thing may happen again if someone manages to get ahead. Now, with Googles enormous investments in internet bandwidth and telecom, Zennström and Friis, responsible for Joost and Skype, must feel a little squished by the giant Google octopus.

Who will win? Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Joost? I am betting on Google, perhaps in collaboration with Apple. If they do win, it seems likely we will have TV with a lot wider spectrum of programming, not just the same old mass entertainment. I wouldn't mind that.

User supplied TV-shows? Sure, bring it on. If rating, categorization and personalization will enable me to effortlessly find what I want to watch, I am all for it.

Everything is going to be personalized. Personalized ads, search, TV-channels, music – any information regardless if it pops up in a geographic location on your phone or if it is your own personalized news page or news TV channel.

And that is a good thing.

But Google will be everywhere – and that might not be such a good thing. We can only hope that Googles company motto "Do no evil" prevails and that there are not too many gray areas in their definition of evil.

Some links:

Google's Own Private Internet
When Being a Verb is Not Enough: Google wants to be YOUR Internet.
Why Joost Is Good for TV
Google Talks the Talk
Google: Dark Fiber Story Not So Dark
GOOGANOIA: Why Everyone is so Scared of Google
Winner-Take-All: Google and the Third Age of Computing
Google CEO wants $74 billion TV ad market


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