Published March 05, 2015

Google Wants Your Cellphone, Too

Each year, there are two major events at which manufacturers trot out their new offerings in technology. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January in Las Vegas is the big daddy, with 160,000 attendees this year.

But number one son is the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, with some 86,000 showing up. This year’s edition is wrapping up today.

One of the more interesting developments at the Congress was a Monday bombshell announcement by Google (GOOG) that it will soon be offering cellular network plans, in an effort to bridge the gap between Internet services and mobile device software.

What, does the company just want to own everything?

Not exactly. According to Google VP Sundar Pichai, the Internet giant company’s Project Nova is aimed at working together with unnamed cellular network operators to develop such a plan. Pichai insisted that Google isn't a threat to traditional ISPs and phone service providers. What the company is seeking is a way to unite cell towers, Google Fiber, and new Wi-Fi initiatives to maximize coverage to users, giving them a “seamless” connection when they move around among Wi-Fi and cellular coverages.

Some media outlets, citing unnamed insider sources, contend that Google wants to become what’s known as an MVNO, or mobile virtual network operator. This means it would buy space on the airwaves from major, existing networks, then sell packages directly to customers. Users would then continually get the best possible connection for their particular mobile location. Google is alleged to be working with T-Mobile and Sprint, and has previously been linked with Verizon.

If it gets its way with its marketing muscle, the company could potentially unroll one Internet subscription to rule them all—relegating operators of physical networks to wholesalers instead of retailers.

Nova has been in the works for some time—rumor has it the company has been ruminating on the idea since 2008—and that is slated to be rolled out this fall. But Pichai downplayed the implications. “We don’t intend to be a network operator at scale,” he said. “Our goal here is to drive a set of innovations which we think the ecosystem should evolve and hopefully will get traction. Again, we will do it on a small enough scale … [that] people see what we are doing and hopefully carrier partners think our ideas are good.”

And if partners don’t like what they see? Hmm … Pichai didn’t address that particular question. We’ll have to wait and see how this all shakes out. But with Google we’ve learned not to jump to any premature conclusions. You can never predict what will emerge next from the fortress at Mountain View.

For example, how does this move into cellular service interface with Google Drone. It’s not called that…. yet. But Google definitely has a project underway that will attempt to use its drones from Titan—a company it outbid Facebook for in April 2014—as flying broadcast towers that provide the ground with Internet connectivity.

Google is enamored of drones because they can be maneuvered to wherever capacity is needed, can run on solar energy, and seem like a promising way to bring Internet access to remote areas that would otherwise remain unserved. The first experimental launch of a communications drone is scheduled for later this year.

But Google isn't the only participant in the Mobile Congress, to be sure. Many other companies are introducing their latest and greatest.

Freescale Semiconductor (FSL) is showcasing its next-generation S32V vision microprocessor, as a step toward creating a “new safety paradigm for truly autonomous driving.” Its ultimate goal, the company says, is to enable “fusion of vision data captured by the S32V device with multiple other data streams, including radar, LiDAR and ultrasonic information to enable optimal resolution, and image recognition accuracy.”

Worried about your privacy in an age where CCTVs are everywhere? AVG Technologies (AVG) has the answer: invisibility glasses. The glasses use a combination of infrared lights and retro-reflective materials to obscure your image. The company admits they’re not perfect; but what first-gen product is? (And this is yet another future tech already dreamt up by Daniel Suarez in Daemon and Freedom.)

And for privacy in communications, you can check out Silent Circle’s new Blackphone 2. It features automatic encryption of video and voice calls over a peer-to-peer VoIP service, encrypted messaging, and an automatically encrypted address book. It also offers separate, lockable segments, so that if your kid wants to borrow the phone, he can’t see your private stuff.

If you’re like every other smartphone user, your number-one complaint is about battery power—or specifically the loss thereof. IKEA wants to help. The company has unveiled a line of furniture with built-in wireless-recharging capabilities. Just lay your phone down on an X-marked spot and walk away.

Ford Motor Co. (F) has debuted prototypes of a pair of electric-assist bicycles with smart features that will help you navigate city routes more easily and safely. Monitors your heart rate, too.

These two giant trends—smart watches, smart bikes, smart cities, and smart buildings versus the desire for big firms like Google to track and quantify everything in order to advertise more effectively (and the government to use same to keep tabs on those it sees as threats to its power)—have got to meet head-to-head one of these days. When that happens, I have a feeling it will be a legislative battle royal, with much money being stuffed into political coffers.

Bits & Bytes

For centuries, mankind has been trying to heal the blind. At last, we’re getting close to achieving that objective. Meet the Second Sight Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System, a vision-restoration device developed by Second Sight Medical Products (EYES). Thanks to the product, a Minnesota man was able to see, at least partially, for the first time since contracting a rare degenerative eye disease.

NeuroMetrix (NURO) just released the world’s first pain-relief wearable, called Quell. The device consists of a strap worn around the ankle. When activated, it stimulates nerves in the leg, sending a message to the brain to release endogenous opioids, which are the body’s natural pain killers. Quell starts relieving pain in about 15 minutes. The device is FDA approved and costs $250.

Health care is being “Uber-fied,” according to healthcare consultant Tom Green. For those unfamiliar, Uber is a car sharing service that is upending the multibillion-dollar taxi industry. The likes of Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT), which are rolling out quick and convenient primary-care clinics, are doing the same to health care, says Green. The payoff for Big Retail could be “enormous.”

Ever heard of a head-up display? It’s a technology that projects information like a driver’s speed and fuel level onto a car’s windshield, thus minimizing driver distraction and improving safety. Head-up displays are already incorporated in some luxury cars and will soon be incorporated in many lower-end cars. In fact, ABI Research projects that one-third of consumer vehicles will have head-up displays by 2024. Major suppliers in the space include Harman International Industries (HAR), Visteon (VC), and Delphi Automotive (DLPH).

What do you do with gobs of cash? You buy things, like real estate. That’s exactly what cash-rich tech companies are doing these days. That’s driving up real estate values in Silicon Valley, the world’s major tech hub. The average price paid for an office building in Silicon Valley was a record-high $329 a square foot in 2014, up from $299 in 2013 and $190 in 2009, according to real estate services firm DTZ. Savvy investors are already looking for the next tech hot spot. Nav Athwal, writing for Forbes, ventures a guess.

Next stop for Apple (AAPL): $160, or 23% above the current share price. That price target comes from Morgan Stanley’s Katy Huberty, one of the biggest Apple bulls on Wall Street. Over the next few years, Huberty sees Apple’s addressable market expanding from $800 billion to $3.4 trillion, as the company moves into wearables, TVs, and even cars.

Speaking of the Apple car, the folks over at Mercedes-Benz don’t seem the least bit concerned about Apple’s auto ambitions. “If there were a rumor that Mercedes or Daimler planned to start building smartphones then they [Apple] would not be sleepless at night. And the same applies to me,” says Mercedes exec Dieter Zetsche. He also points out that a move into cars would compromise Apple’s margins, which wouldn’t sit well with investors.

Avoid Tesla (TSLA)! That warning comes from Bank of America analyst John Lovallo, who predicts that shares will crater from $200 to $65, a 68% fall. Lovallo thinks the electric car maker’s huge new lithium battery factory will be a major cash drain that will pressure margins and returns.

One of the best stock pickers in the mutual fund biz is selling Google. Fidelity Investments’ Will Danoff recently reduced his stake in the search giant by nearly a third. Danoff is concerned about a shift to cheaper searches on mobile phones. Then there’s this.they

Google’s search engine deal with Apple will expire this year. If Apple goes a different route, it could cost Google billions in sales. Apple surely knows this, so even if keeps the business, Google is likely to lose margin on the renegotiation.

Forbes released a list of the world’s richest techies. The top spot went to—you guessed it, Bill Gates, with a net worth of $79 billion. Oracle (ORCL) founder Larry Ellison was a distant second, with a net worth of $54 billion. Rounding out the top five were Amazon’s (AMZN) Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s (FB) Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s Larry Page.

With the Nasdaq approaching levels not seen since the dot-com era, CNN Money released a list of the biggest dot-com failures. Who’s number one? Pets.com, of course.

In the smartphone market, Xiaomi has been a real thorn in Samsung’s and Apple’s sides. And now, the Chinese tech company has its sights set on GoPro (GPRO), with the release of the Yi Action Camera.

The Alibaba (BABA) hype is wearing off. The Chinese e-commerce company just hit an all-time low of $82 per share, down nearly 30% from an all-time high reached shortly after its IPO late last year. The stock has taken a beating due to several factors, including recent revelations about fake orders being placed on the company’s site.

Kim Kardashian the video-game mogul? It’s true. The reality star’s mobile game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood netted a whopping $74.3 million in 2014. The game’s creator, Glu Mobile (GLUU), hopes to replicate that success with a new game featuring pop singer Katy Perry, which will launch later this year.

What do you know, another Clinton controversy. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was evidently using a private email account for official state business. That, according to the AP, “would have afforded Clinton additional legal opportunities to block government or private subpoenas in criminal, administrative, or civil cases because her lawyers could object in court before being forced to turn over any emails.” Not surprisingly, the GOP is up in arms, including the colorful South Carolina congressman, Trey Gowdy, who is leading the Benghazi investigation.

Aston Martin recently unveiled its latest supercar: the Vulcan. It’s made of carbon fiber, boasts a 7.0-liter V12 engine, and 800 horses. The price? A cool $2.33 million, tax not included.

We’ll leave with this: an oldie, but goodie from the satirical news organization The Onion, which spoofs Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) cloud strategy.