The massive Google I/O 2014 conference, running June 25-26 in San Francisco, is designed for cloud and mobile software developers. But Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) investors better be paying attention, too -- especially since major consumer- and business-focused initiatives will take center stage. Here are 5 moves to watch.
1. Android Wear: This is Google's smartwatch platform. Mashable is quick to note that Google has offered few Android Wear details so far, but plenty of chatter is expected at the I/O conference.
From Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) to Samsung (OTC:SSNLF), numerous technology companies are betting wearable computers -- led by smartwatches -- will drive the next round of consumer spending. Frankly, I'm skeptical.
Samsung apparently shipped 500,000 Galaxy Gear smartwatches in Q1 2014 -- good enough for 71 percent market share -- but overall buzz about the devices has been mixed at best.
In many cases, smartwatches are highly limited extensions to smartphones. Until more innovative apps -- running on more powerful hardware -- arrive, I'll remain a skeptic. And perhaps that's where Android Wear enters the picture now, with Apple's so-called iWatch expected to enter the picture later this year.
My Prediction: Forgive me Google, but I'm betting Apple gets the iWatch right -- proving that CEO Tim Cook and his management team inherited just enough of Steve Jobs' DNA to keep Apple pushing into new markets for at least the next five years or so.
2. Google Nest: A new "Works with Nest" certification program promises to link thousands of in-home devices to Google's smart home platform.
As The Wall Street Journal points out, many smart home products are solutions looking for a problem. Using smartphones and other devices to manage lights, thermostats and other devices often is a hassle.
But plenty of really smart folks disagree with me. On Tech News Today, a daily video podcast I co-host, lead anchor Mike Elgan pointed out that Nest could pave the way for more efficient home appliances that go on and off based on electric grid capacity, power pricing at a particular hour, and other variables. Perhaps that's why Whirpool has vowed to embrace Google Nest.
My Prediction: Over time, Google will get Nest right. And the revolution starts this week at I/O. The result: An ecosystem of Nest-enabled devices linked to each other, as well as Nest-enabled devices controlled remotely by Android smartphones, tablets, cars and more.
3. Android TV Meets Chromecast: Rumors about Android TV, the apparent successor to Google TV, popped up back in April 2014. At the time, The Verge predicted Android TV would be a simple TV interface for apps, games, entertainment and educational content. In other words, call it a potential alternative to Roku or Apple TV.
I'm wondering if or how Android TV will integrate with Chromecast, the simply thumb drive that allows you to stream Internet content from Android devices to your TV. Chromecast has been one of the best selling devices on Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) for quite some time. Without offering a specific sales figure, Google in March 2014 said it had sold "millions" of Chromecasts.
Now, critics are worried that Android TV and Chromecast will potentially compete with one another -- rather than integrate in some sort of way. The safe bet: Google will clarify the situation at I/O.
My Prediction: My in-laws purchased a Samsung smart TV against my advice about a year ago. In my opinion, smart TVs are still dumb, clumsy and difficult for the average consumer to use. Both Google and Apple are trying to solve that challenge. I suspect Android TV is pretty impressive. Otherwise, why would Google attempt to launch this new offering when Chromecast -- which I own -- is already pretty darn nifty on its own?
4. Docker is the Next Big Software Platform: I doubt Docker will take center stage at Google I/O, but it will be discussed at a few high-profile sessions. Generally speaking, Docker is "container" technology that allows software developers to easily build and move applications from one location (say, a corporate server) to another location (say, a public cloud... like Google Cloud Platform).
In some ways, Docker is like virtualization technology from VMware Inc. (NYSE:VMW), Citrix Systems Inc. (NASDAQ:CTXS) and Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT). But ultimately, Docker is a next-generation open source platform. One leading backer, no surprise, is Docker Inc. But Google and plenty of other companies are jumping on the bandwagon.
My Prediction: Like Linux roughly two decades ago, Docker will emerge as a leading open source platform that catches on within businesses and in public clouds. Major IT companies -- IBM Corp. (NYSE:IBM), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE:HPQ), Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO) and others -- have Docker on their radars.
Someday, Google Cloud Platform will be one of the leading repositories for Docker containers. The revolution starts this week at Google I/O.
5. All Roads Lead to Google Cloud Platform: Google used to stand for simplicity. From the Google search engine home page to Google Apps, just about everything the company designed was simple, simple, simple to use.
But in recent years, Google has started to suffer from complexity. The company has numerous platforms, developer initiatives and strategic directions. For developers and investors, too many platforms can wind up confusing or "stalling" a market and harming future growth.
My Prediction: Google will continue to build, launch, kill and experiment with new platforms. But the ultimate goal is rather simple to explain. Each platform must either (a) drive more users to Google's search engine or (b) drive more IT workloads onto Google Cloud Platform.
Generally speaking, Amazon Inc. Web Services and Microsoft's Azure dominate most of today's cloud discussions. But I believe Google Cloud Platform is coming on strong.
Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article. The author is long on RHT and RAX, and owns technology stocks through mutual funds.