GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK’S BATTLE OVER THE FUTURE OF TECH
In the last few months, Google has acquired startups pioneering robotics, artificial intelligence, and Internet-connected devices for homes. Meanwhile, Facebook has furthered its foray into smartphone apps and emerging technologies, including the controversial purchase of Oculus VR, the company behind the Kickstarter-funded Oculus Rift virtual reality technology, for US$2 billion in March.
Between them, Google Co-founder, Larry Page, and Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, have embarked on a shopping spree of eight companies in the past six months. Google spent US$3.2 billion acquiring Nest, a maker of smart thermostats and smoke detectors, which will put it at the forefront of the connected home concept. It also paid US$400 million for DeepMind, a startup specializing in artificial intelligence, and undisclosed amounts buying out two robotics companies, Boston Dynamics, and Schaft. Meanwhile, Facebook’s US$19 billion purchase of the popular texting app WhatsApp was the second largest tech acquisition of all time, trailing only Hewlett-Packard’s acquisition of Compaq for US$25 billion (US$33.4 billion when adjusted for inflation) in 2002. The buyout let Facebook pick up all 32 of WhatsApp’s engineering team, neatly securing itself valuable talent, but more importantly directly strengthened Facebook’s position on smartphones and gave it inroads to WhatsApp’s 450 million users. Facebook’s purchase of Oculus VR suddenly puts it at the forefront of entertainment technology, and ambitious plans like a billion-person virtual reality MMO game have already been hinted at.
Spending billions for unproven concepts may seem risky but both Page and Zuckerberg know what it means to not stay on top of new trends and technologies. Neither Google nor Facebook were the first successful companies in their respective fields, but both have seen the downfall of early competitors like Netscape and MySpace, companies that came before them, but were unable to innovate and adapt to change.
That’s what led both companies to Titan Aerospace’s doorstep. Facebook wants to use drones as part of its Internet.org initiative, an alliance with companies including Ericsson, Samsung, and Nokia to bring wireless Internet to the billions of people in developing nations that don’t have it. Google has the same goal and will use Titan’s drones to complement its Internet-delivering high-altitude balloons, part of an internal initiative called Project Loon.
Industry analysts have described this moment in time as the second Internet boom. A boom driven by a new type of Internet, the Internet of Things: connected gadgets and smart devices that are creating an entirely new industry. It’s a time where ideas that once seemed plausible only in the distant future are suddenly becoming possible now. Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg are determined to see that Google and Facebook will be the ones pioneering that future.