From wearable technology and directions to venues, to network technology for connected living spaces, it seems Google is taking on more and more aspects of city living...
It may know more about how a city moves than its government, but it has also made life easier for city visitors and dwellers. So is Google’s encroachment into urban living a good or a bad thing?
For Lewis Sellers, managing director of web development firm Pinpoint Designs, that offers services such as Search Engine Optimisation and marketing campaigns for companies, the rise of Google technology is a welcome one.
He says: “For a small city-based retail business, it can really help to increase their visibility. For example, if a restaurant has a Google Local Places account, they're able to grow their customer reviews to rank higher. As the number of reviews and their scores improve, they start becoming more visible in Google Now, so if I'm looking to eat out in Manchester, I'll be provided with an up to date recommendation for a popular restaurant.”
Google is making city travel more spontaneous. With a wealth of information at their fingertips, travellers can set off with a ‘leave now, figure it out later’ mentality. Someone living in Scotland can plan their route to London early morning, check the weather forecast for that day, plan their journey home, and have a warm house waiting for them when they return, courtesy of Nest by Google.
The fact that Google is compatible across thousands of devices means that users can go anywhere in the world and get up to date information without having to find a local paper, or even speak the language.
Sellers adds: “Some people may think that technology is getting too big for its boots, but the transformation Google is making to people’s lives, making them easier, is absolutely brilliant. With the tap of a button, you have all the key information you need, reducing the levels of stress in our daily lives.”
For London-based commercial property agents, De Vono Property, which exclusively represents tenants, Google has streamlined the process of viewing and choosing offices, whether by street view, 3D or increasingly, those properties that can be entered online. However, while Google's increasingly refined satellite technology helps to minimise the time spent on viewings, saving time for agents and commercial occupiers by cutting out certain buildings that may not be right, it will never replace visiting a property, says managing director Adam Landau.
"The feel, smell, feng-shui, temperature and atmosphere of an office or building still needs to be experienced first-hand, but we are grateful for the technology which has made the viewing of commercial properties that much simpler," he adds.
Others argue that Google’s convenient omnipresence in city life comes at a cost.
James Atkinson, strategist at digital agency Collective London, sees a real danger of city dwellers sleepwalking into a privacy nightmare, as Google steadily takes ownership of urban transport data.
He says: “Want to know the quickest way to walk somewhere? Need to turn your smartphone into a sat-nav? Figuring out a journey by public transport? The answer is always Google. Even the revolutionary, and quite controversial, new cab app Uber is Google-backed and integrated with Google Maps.
“It may not be here yet, but it is probably closer than you think - one day, there will be Google Driverless Cars in your city. Indeed, the company’s acquisition of real-time incident reporting app Waze for $1.3bn only shows us just how serious they are about knowing where we are, and what we’re doing, as often as possible.”
Monetisation is another inevitability of the Google phenomenon. Combine your real-time location with your search history, and that online dating ad you looked at might pop up when you least expect it; on a digital billboard at the next set of traffic lights?
“Maybe George Orwell was right, but he was wrong about the protagonist. Google is watching, and getting more and more powerful with each new aspect of our lives we allow them to see,” says Atkinson.
Google's strength is its wealth of technical and engineering talent, whose adeptness at solving problems in one domain and applying that solution to others, is a key driver of its bold expansion into other industries, from Google Fiber and Loon, supplying internet services almost anywhere in the world, to Nest and Dropcam, offering automation and simplicity in the home.
Does our reliance on these services, all controlled by a single company, signal a point of failure for society, or greater control over the media we watch, the moods we feel, and ultimately our security and freedoms?
These are very empowering services, says Dan Drummond, technical consultant at mobile technology firm Apadmi, and in a world that is moving so quickly, where most people barely have time to stop and rest, they are also very attractive.
"We always need to be aware of the cost of these services; which are not always obvious at first glance. We cannot make a good decision unless we understand what we are giving up in order to access these services,” he explains.
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