Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google make up the five horsemen of the internet. I’ve written before about how they are both dominating their own and crossing each others’ fields at the same time.
The media constantly frames a theory that all five are at war, each wanting to be the only tech company standing. Well, in simplistic terms, if there is to be a clear winner then that will be Google. There will be silver and bronze medals, but the gap to gold will be up there with a Usain Bolt performance: lots of ‘what ifs’ from the challengers but ultimately a crushing defeat for the field. I’m ignoring the fact that it’s not a zero sum game – but there will be a clear leader in all fields that their peers wish to play in.
Of course, Google have built a war chest as the world’s omnipresent advertising company. Digital spending in the UK is expected to reach £6 billion ($9.52 billion) this year, up 14% over 2012. Google will account for 44% of this total spend (F/Book is 5%) that’s £2.6bn p.a. giving them the resources of a behemoth who’s strengthening every day.
This strong financial base of customers, rather than just ‘user numbers,’ is reflected in their share price going north of $870 (Microsoft ~$30, Apple ~$430, Amzn ~$460, F/B ~$26). It’s all the more impressive when you see that Apple’s halo has slipped significantly in Wall Street’s eyes this year and that Facebook has declined in value by over 30% since its float. Of six tech companies worth over $5 billion that went public recently, only Google has increased in market price since.
Their everyday services like Gmail, Chrome, Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google+, Google Drive, and Google Now are like some digital blimp hovering patiently overhead, waiting for you to be sucked up into the cloud. Once there, it becomes easier to rid yourself of Dell, Asus, Apple et al and jump into a Chromebook (Google’s laptop) or Nexus 7&10 (their tablet range), or their Nexus 4 phone (remember they bought Motorola for $12.5bn). It’s a software and hardware package that compliments itself better than Simon Cowell in a new suit. How can they not win?
Web stalwarts like John Battelle are singling out Google as the more honest, ethical and open horseman worthy of trusting with their data – and we’re all “putting data” somewhere as it’s now a cloud-synced-world we live in and local is for convenience stores, not data.
They may not have the evangelists that follow Apple, but Google has the largest platforms for distributing content, services, apps, and obviously, advertising. They have the funds, tailwind and confidence (along with freedom from shareholders) to constantly innovate. They step out of their business vertical to reach into apparently unrelated sectors and still break new ground – granted, so do other horsemen too.
Here’s a reminder about some of the stuff they’re bringing us:
Google Now (finally available on iOS) is threatening to make your iPhone’s Siri look as advanced as a typewriter.
Express shopping where you buy at the search engine result and not visit the retailer directly. This is a future splinter of ecommerce, with a portion of sales done at the search engine you trust, not at some retailer you just met (again, Google want to take that first click and increase your experience on THEIR site, not refer to third parties).
Google+ is starting to be taken seriously as a social media option worth engaging with.
Google Fibre is to the telecoms sector, what fracking is for the gas industry. They’ll drop a Google fibre bomb that’s 100 times the industry standard and light up the surrounding folks who will spark into action because of the new opportunity of 1-gigabit connections. The likes of AT&T in the US must think their days are numbered. Google don’t need to make money on supplying wi-fi – they profit on our collective use of the ‘net, not the measly monthly subscriptions to use the pipe. Talk about a disruptive service.
Google Glass has received mixed reviews and plenty of scaremongering critique but you’ve got to applaud them when they’ve showed prototypes from virtually the beginning (allowing others to plagiarise).
It’s the opposite of their ultra-secretive competitors. It’s also a completely innovative product giving us ‘Back to the Future’ realities. The Doc in his DeLorean might’ve been ready for Glass, but the question is, are we?
They hope to give Spotify some competition with their music streaming platform, Google Play Music All Access and streaming is the fastest growing part of the £330m digital music sector in Britain.
Google also look at apparently random projects that they wish to see enrich our lives from their skunk works lab called Google X. Far from a passing whim, this lab’s R&D budget was $6.8 billion in 2012. They create the stuff of Star Trek. They’re working on wi-fi sky-bound balloons and blimps to connect people to the Internet in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. They’re talking about inflatable robots, eye examinations that can detect the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, nuclear fusion reactors and levitation.
Oh yeah, they’ll also give us cars that drive themselves. Indeed they already are.
It’s a shame that when you look at such an outlandishly dynamic and innovative company that it’s marred by bad press thanks to their (low) tax bills. Their mindset, bemused by the furor, is that they’re obeying the letter of the law, but many folks think they should follow the spirit of it closer. I can’t help but think that such a cash rich innovator could turn the tax conversation on its head and pay more than the law requires. The first of the internet horsemen to this would endear itself massively – isn’t that a marketing and branding exercise that would “Do no evil.”
Image credits – Illustration: Nicola Felasquez Felaco. Reference photo: Corbis