Later today, Google will kick off its developer conference, I/O, with the theme "design, develop and distribute." The search and software behemoth's moves can send ripples across the ad industry. And this year, the company is pushing aggressively beyond mobile, into watches, cars and homes.
Here are five areas marketers and agencies should watch:
Google's software powers the lion share of smartphones -- its Android operating system has an 80% market share worldwide, according to IDC. And Google wants to spread that dominance to other mobile devices. In March, it announced Android Wear, a software platform for smartwatches, with a slew of hardware partners, including Samsung, which has put out two waves of watches, and LG and Motorola, which are launching theirs soon.
A more polished version of Android Wear is expected to debut at the conference. Google has not ruled out the possibility of ads migrating to smartwatches (and beyond). And agencies have plotted ways to make them work, although they remain unproven. When the new devices roll out, marketing dollars will surely follow -- Samsung spent $62 million in measured media on smartwatches in 2013. However, the wearables industry is mostly waiting for the fall, when Apple is expected to unveil a watch.
And while there aren't any rumors about Google Glass news, the search giants own wearable device -- under new leadership and beset by marketing hurdles -- will certainly make some appearances.
The other blazing-hot wearable category is digital health, and Google is widely expected to join the fray. At its developer conference earlier this month, Apple announced a new software platform and mobile app that aggregate health-data. Samsung released a similar feature earlier.
Google will unveil its own health-data hub, according to Forbes. Its earlier stab, a platform called Google Health, was shuttered in 2011. Since then, interest in fitness-tracking devices has taken off. NPD estimates the market hit $330 million last year. Google scored last week when Nike, maker of FuelBand, which accounts for around 10% of the fitness-tracker retail market, opened its software for Android.
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The market is still nascent, with no dominant platform. So far, tech companies have been tossing out innovations to see what sticks. "There's not a huge killer app with those products," said Ben Arnold, an NPD analyst. That certainly gives Google an opening.
Google's social network has faced questions since its launch. But the interrogation over its future intensified in late April when Google+ boss Vic Gundotra announced he was leaving the company. As Google's primary service to rival Facebook, Google+ remains an important tool for the company to offer app developers (Google I/O's primary audience) to register users and personalize content.
During last year's Google I/O, Google spent a significant chunk of its three-hour keynote showing off 41 new Google+ features. That, however, was Mr. Gundotra's show. Google appears to have dimmed the lights on Google+ for this year's conference. Of the 244 sessions, only one will focus on Google+; last year Google+ was the topic of 15 sessions.
If Google announces an Android-powered set-top box that can run apps, Google Play will likely be where users go to install those apps. The app store is also Google's marketplace for digital media sales, like movies and TV shows. It might be a longshot, but Google could use the Android set-top box to launch a subscription-based streaming video business a la Netflix and particularly Amazon, whose Fire TV device offers a la carte videos and streaming fare.
A more likely scenario is for Android TV to double as a gaming console, as has been reported. That would allow games developed for mobile to be played on larger screens.
In case you hadn't heard, Google wants to take over your home. Nest Labs, the smart-thermostat maker Google acquired in February, said yesterday that it will share information with Google and its Android apps. (Nest executives have insisted its thermostats will remain ad-free.) Earlier this week, Nest purchased Dropcam, a home monitoring equipment maker. Google is also expected to announce developments in Android compabitility with cars.
All this puts it in a race for connected-device supremacy with Apple. The Cupertino company released a connected-home platform, HomeKit, and has inked deals with auto-makers and major mobile apps for its CarPlay dashboard. Samsung and Microsoft are also wading in.
To get these products in homes and garages, Google will need to aggressively promote them, as it's been doing with YouTube. Google's measured media spending jumped 41.5% in 2013 to $568 million, according to the Ad Age DataCenter.