Google is back in CES
A major event for the international tech scene: the CES officially threw open its doors this week. And the big surprise is that for the first time, Google was present as an exhibitor, despite the fact that GAFA companies had until now tended to shun the show.
Impossible to miss Google at the CES in 2018, seeing as before even getting to the show, visitors were exposed to various advertising operations orchestrated by this Mountain View giant in the streets of Las Vegas. All the (numerous) advertising screens in the city were extolling the virtues of the virtual assistant developed by Google for everyday objects (speakers, TV, Smartphones, etc.). The monorail, which is the city's only means of public transport, was plastered with "Hey Google" messages written in giant letters. And finally, at the entrance of the Las Vegas Convention Centre, visitors got to play on a giant gumball machine sporting the brand's colours.
The company's stand was also entirely devoted to Google Assistant, and showed the full extent of the range by displaying all the devices capable of using this technology. Google had obviously decided to do things in a big way on its suppliers' stands too, by posting dozens of highly visible white-clad representatives devoted to explaining the benefits of its virtual assistant.
The action plan was therefore pretty impressive, and bore witness to Google's wish to be not only present, but to also make its mark on the CES in 2018. But why such a change of strategy for a group that has tended to shun the show until now?
A software actor moves into the hardware business
Google originally upheld an active role in software and service markets, but not in electronics for the general public, or hardware for that matter, which is the theme of the CES. But Mountain View has been seeking to add a hardware perspective to its strategy for a few years now. As Alan Kay, one of the founding fathers of IT put it: "People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware".
Google slowly got started on the range of Nexus Smartphones, resulting from its collaboration with constructors like LG or HTC. The idea was mostly to show the power of its OS Android rather than to turn it into an actual avenue for growth. Their buyout of Motorola and launching of the Pixel range were a further step in the same direction, and other products such as Google Wifi and even Google Glasses are also worth mentioning.
But it's mainly since it began launching products that include its Google Assistant, like Google Home, that Mountain View has asserted itself as a major player in electronics for the general public. So it's quite logical that it should end up taking part in an event such as the CES alongside Samsung and LG.
Winning the connected speakers battle
Amazon, its rival, however once again overlooked the CES. Although Amazon occupies a position aimed exclusively at developers, and although products that use Alexa were presented by many exhibitors, strictly speaking, this Seattle-based brand does not exhibit its wares at the CES. Nevertheless, in terms of hardware, Amazon has some solid references, with best sellers like its connected speaker Amazon Echo, its Kindle E-reader and Kindle Fire tablets. Though Amazon still seems to prefer to host in-house events when launching new products and orchestrating its marketing.
In fact, it was probably Amazon's success on this strategic market that made Google take the plunge this year. For the moment, in the battle waged around connected speakers (Google Home VS Amazon Echo), the e-commerce giant remains one step ahead of its Californian rival. Echo was launched mid-2015 whereas Google Home was obliged to wait until late in 2016. And although Google says it has sold 6 million connected speakers worldwide, Amazon still has over 70% of market shares in the United States. In France however, Google is ahead owing to Amazon's failure to launch a French version of Alexa.
As far as Google is concerned, the challenge is huge: if consumers get used to using Alexa's rival virtual assistant to access product-related information, the risk is that they will use the search engine less, and therefore be less exposed to adverts and other sponsored links, which are currently the group's main source of income. Google must therefore ensure that it remains the target of such requests, and this is probably why it pulled out all the stops to impose itself as the winner of this 2018 CES edition.
Benjamin Thomas Consultant innovation - "I help our clients find and test new ways to do their job."
Article initially published in Les Echos Start.