Why Google Struggles With Hardware.

Why Can’t I jump On The Google Train?


Amidst much of the criticism and skepticism that Google has faced over the years, I have always had a lot of respect for how the search engine has evolved. Google has made several obvious and sometimes questionable extensions to its product portfolio.

I must admit upfront that I can hardly imagine a world without Google, Youtube, Maps, Earth or even Gmail.

But, when it comes to hardware, I can’t seem to forge a connection. Being a gadget geek, I was a little curious when I discovered that of all devices I’ve bought, used, or stored away, a Google device wasn’t one of them.

Now, when you think about it, Google isn’t a hardware company. It’s a search engine that generates almost all its revenue from ad sales, 84% (Q2, 2019). The remainder of which comes from Google Play, Cloud and its Hardware division – mobile phones, tablets, laptops, smart home devices etc.

Google’s hardware journey is a mix of partnerships, acquisitions and in-house development. Its portfolio looks a bit like this.

Google-Hardware-Product-Portfolio

Please note that I have deliberately organized sub-brands according to a distinction I feel makes more sense because Google tends to mix up the Crome/book/pixel theme into a format that is confusing and somewhat disconnected.

Anyway, to cure my curiosity, I stopped by Best Buy to play around with the latest Google gadgets. Their mobile devices have come a long way from what I remember, but, they still fall short. While I have no reason to doubt the capability and usefulness of the devices, I have to question the serious lack of attention to aesthetics. They aren’t very exciting.

Google laptops are a few stops better, while Nest and Google Home products on the other hand are very appealing in their respective categories.

Google mobile phones have not made a dent in the worldwide market, otherwise ruled by Huawei (20%), Samsung (19.5%), Apple (13.5%) and Xiaomi (10.2%)*. In laptops, it trails HP (26.6%), Lenovo (18.3%), Dell (16.75%), Apple (8.92%), Asus (8.4%) and Acer (7.5%). They have made headway in education though.

In tablets, it’s a no-show against Apple (32.3%), Samsung (18.1%), Huawei (12.4%) and Amazon (9.3%)*. Apple’s share once stood at 60% in 2011.

However, we do have to make some concessions, because frankly, Google’s brand equity in hardware has some distance to cover. It’s also a little late to an extremely competitive party. In addition, Google’s privacy concerns continue to haunt them.

Here are some of the things I feel Google needs to work on.

  • Google’s issue with privacy and personal data usage plague its foray into hardware products as users see them as Google’s prying eyes. Google needs to tackle the elephant in the room. In fact, Apple’s marcom team has used this to their advantage.
  • Google employs several brand portfolio architectures within the hardware division as opposed to settling on a stable convention. Remember, internal understanding does not always mirror external comprehension. The diagram provided above is cleaner than what I’ve seen through online sources.
  • Humans are visual beings. Aesthetically, Google seems to have devoted less resources to design elements. Having tons of information on how users use mobile devices or what they want from them needs to be complemented and represented by a distinguishable design.
  • The price tags are on par or within striking distance of competitors who are more entrenched, and quite simply, have more on offer.
  • In terms of packaging, it’s almost clear where Google gets its cues from. But to create its own uniqueness, Google needs to ‘think different-ly‘.
  • Android is both a boon and a bane. With every other mobile phone on the market sporting a similar OS, it’s hard to develop any sort of individuality. Yes, it makes perfect sense for Google and from a developer standpoint, but a bit more personalization is needed to create further distinction.

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