Google's top-secret experiment in home entertainment

The internet search giant is setting its crosshairs on your living room. Would an Android-powered home catch on?

By Feb 14, 2012 1:22PM
Image: Privacy (© Beathan/Corbis)Google (GOOG) has asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to test a top-secret home entertainment device in four U.S. cities. According to the application, the system will connect through home WiFi networks and Bluetooth to other home electronics, including lightbulbs, speakers, and television sets.

Is this move a natural progression for Google, or does it have flop written all over it?

What exactly is the device?
 Google is keeping a tight lid on the project. But the "initial purpose of the device will be for streaming music" through a person's home, say David Streitfeld and Nicole Perlroth at the New York Times, with the aim to move into "much wider" territory later. It could be related to a project called "Android@Home" says Chris Davis at Slashgear, which was demonstrated at Google I/O in 2011. The system allows users to control various devices scattered through the house while connecting them with an Android-based operating system. For example, someone would theoretically be able to play music from an Android tablet on Google-made speakers throughout the home.

Why move into home electronics? 
It's simple. "As the Internet matures," say the Times' Streitfeld and Perlroth, "the leading companies are trying to create full-fledged ecosystems to preserve their individual dominance." That's why Amazon (AMZN) started making tablets, and Apple moved from hardware to selling content through iTunes. Such a move would allow Google to lock users into its products and online marketplaces.

Is this a wise move? 
It will diversify Google's product line, at least. The company is "looking for promising gushers other than its gangbusters search advertising business," says Jessica Guynn at the Los Angeles Times, "which accounts for nearly all of its revenue." Earlier this year, the company paid $12.5 billion to acquire Motorola Mobility (MMI) -- a hardware manufacturer that specializes in "set-top boxes and mobile handsets." By moving into consumer electronics with more Google-branded products, Google is moving "into closer competition with Apple (AAPL)."

When would the new device come out? 
It's too early to say. Google is just requesting to test a prototype in select cities, including New York and Los Angeles. The FCC filing asked to test 252 devices between Jan. 17 and July 17. And remember, says Casey Johnston at Ars Technica, this is merely the testing phase, so it's possible that nothing will "ever come into consumers' hands that resembles anything like this."

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