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Google intends to forge ahead beyond driverless cars, which may debut in five years; computer-equipped glasses, a year or two away; and its life-extending venture.
"The path we are on -- the runway -- is huge," says Ben Gomes, vice president of search. He has watched the company's narrative arc from a front row seat as Google employee No. 45; he joined the firm 14 years ago.
Google Maps, like search, has undergone major upgrades. The latest version offers 360-degree views of streets, from Main Street USA to locations around the globe. "The goal is to have the most accurate, three-dimensional map of the world," says Brian McClendon, vice president of Google Maps.
Google may well be at a point of transition. "Google's first 15 years have focused on mastering information collection," says Ross Rubin, an analyst at Recticle Research. "The next 15 years will be more about information application."
"The next phase of this is to help provide the right decision-making resources to you at the right time and in the right context," he adds. "For example, you're driving home from work and Google might remind you that your dry cleaning is ready -- 'Would you like to pick it up?' Maybe that info is in Google Calendar or maybe the info has been posted by another company aggregating laundromat services. Just say yes, and your phone or connected car GPS will reroute you to the dry cleaner along with info on some other stores and specials nearby."
Not everything is rosy. Questions persist about Google's mobile strategy, which faces formidable rivals in Apple and Samsung. Google also must contend with social media stalwarts Facebook and Twitter in the battle to attract advertising. So far, Google has yet to corral large social audiences, Internet analysts say.
"If Google starts losing ad revenue to other ad platforms like social and mobile, projects like self-driving cars and Google Glass look more like distractions than big innovation," says Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
Another potential problem area is privacy, for which data -intensive tech companies face scrutiny in light of disclosures about their role -- many contend unwitting -- in the National Security Agency's PRISM surveillance program. (Page has said Google works "very hard to protect your data as a user.")
"Google is in an interesting position of leveraging data -- how far do they push that?" venture capitalist Stolle says. "They are on a tightrope." (continued...)
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