2012: The Year Google Figured Out Hardware

2012 GoogleRewind six-months ago and you would have found an entirely different Google. From a software perspective, the company still continued to flourish, but from an in-house product line, the company was still missing a blockbuster. Products like the Galaxy Nexus and various Chromebooks came and went – seemingly missing an “it factor” that would grant them lasting power. But as the beginning of the year teased future products like Project Glass, Google I/O was really the pivot point for the company’s hardware alongside its OEM partners. There it unveiled the power of Google Glass, the impressive Nexus 7, and the Nexus Q (currently being reevaluated).

From Google I/O, the company introduced two very important themes independent of the products themselves – the first being price and the second being branding. Here, Google took a different strategy by selling at ridiculously-low prices for top-end hardware (Nexus 7 at $199/249). Now Google finally had a legitimate contender in the tablet space, and its presentation would soon carry over to other products that followed. Google also, finally, locked down its branding into more digestible names for its Android devices (Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Nexus 10, and Nexus Q), and finally abolished the dual-branding that probably created more confusion than sales (Galaxy Nexus).

But later in the year, as Oct. 29, approached, so did Hurricane Sandy. What could have been a monumental event for the company had to be announced in piecemeal fashion via blogs and YouTube videos. But what we got was more of the same snowball that was kicked down the hill back at Google I/O that introduced more rock-star hardware at dirt-cheap prices, while maintaining the same palatable branding (Nexus 4 $299/349 unlocked and Nexus 10 $399/499).

Also, once and for all, Google finally figured out the Chromebook. It was no surprise that a cheaper price would fix the fledgling sales of the Web-based laptop, but most probably didn’t think it was possible. But after slashing the price in half, and the introduction of two new models, the Chromebook was hard to come by this holiday season ($199 for Acer C7 and $249 for Samsung model).

By attempting to sell at or close to cost, this allowed Google to gain a foothold in new markets, while expanding upon its dominance in others. The one blemish for Google, mixed in the list of successes, was the lowly Nexus Q. Not surprisingly, it was the one product that didn’t adhere to both of the two themes presented in this article (price and branding). Selling for over $300 for a stripped-down-NFC-enabled Apple TV supplement for Android – it just offered too little for too much. But thanks to quick thinking, Google pulled the Nexus Q sooner rather than later, and will potentially reboot the product next year.

So as we move into 2013, the next step for Google will be the transition away from third-party OEMs – most likely just for products already designed by the company. And despite the Nexus Q’s initial failings, it was the first product designed and manufactured entirely by Google. Early evidence also suggests the same of Google Glass as well, as developer models will soon ship to early adopters who opted in back at Google I/O. The company still has some things to sort out however. Google Play has been a big development for the company, but they have repeatedly had issues with major launches and the logistics surrounding them – most notably the Nexus 4. So will Google complete the circle in 2013, and create its own proprietary hardware exclusively derived from the Mountain View giant?

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