For quite a few years, Google, or Alphabet as they’re now known, has been in the hardware game either directly or indirectly in multiple categories. Right now, they have Nest goods, the OnHub smart router, Nexus devices, Chromebook Pixel devices, Chromecast and many other hardware projects out in the wild. Each one, until now, has had its own division, which could easily lead to budget squabbles, cannibalizing of sales and marketing and other assorted types of chaos. Naturally, it would serve them well to unify the hardware divisions in one way or another. To fill that role, they’ve reportedly tapped former Motorola president Rick Osterloh. He will be in charge of Alphabet’s Advanced Technologies And Products Lab, which Google inherited from Motorola in their buyout, coming full circle in a way. He will also be taking care of Nexus, Chromecast, OnHub and Google Glass.
Replacing the old ATAP leader, Regina Dugan, after her flight to Facebook, Osterloh brings valuable knowledge to the table. After a stint at Good Technology that ended in a buyout from Motorola, they accepted him as one of their own and he eventually made his way to being president of the company, after moving up in the ranks and taking a break to work briefly on Skype. His LinkedIn profile tells the story of a true expert; entering the professional world in 1995 as a senior consultant for Deloitte Consulting and moving onward and upward from there, tracing his journey up the ladder makes it quite clear that Osterloh has always been a leader, which will hopefully help him to bring Google’s various hardware ventures together after a rocky history.
In order to really understand why Google has decided to make this move and why they chose to center it around Osterloh, we have to look closely at the departments being tidied up. ATAP, responsible for things like Project Tango and Project Ara, does not have a marketable product at the moment but has shown off prototypes with some incredible potential and left the tech world salivating, only for updates to go mostly dark for months at a time. With Regina Dugan gone, department leaders within ATAP were left to find their own direction and report directly to Google higher-ups, such as Sundar Pichai and Larry Page. Without clear leadership, this department’s exploits could range from legendary to a bunch of very smart people spinning their wheels. That alone is likely a good reason to stick it under an umbrella with the other divisions being consolidated, but one should also consider the technology being developed. With things like gesture-based Project Soli and cloth-based Project Jacquard in the works, it’s a wonder that most of ATAP’s ambitious products actually make it out of the gate during the two-year timeline they’re given, but the tech behind them is simply unmatched. Leveraging that tech and the development team behind it to further other hardware development just seems natural, and with somebody like Osterloh at the helm, nobody will ever be left wondering what they should be doing.
Chromecast, on the other hand, has been doing fairly well. Billed as an accessible way to bring smarts to the average TV by using your phone, tablet or PC as the brain, Chromecast resonated with users in a big way and has even gotten an Audio version recently. Advanced development could help Chromecast to become more feature-rich without compromising on the low price, while leveraging Chromecast’s hardware and marketing know-how could be good for all of Google’s hardware lineup. The OnHub router is on a similar track, but filling a newer niche and much less far along in its story, making it another good candidate to bring into the fold. The Nexus lineup felt out of key, without direction, for a good while, then was steered back on course by the resoundingly good reception of the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X, chalking up another win. Naturally, allocating talent and resources from this team could be another boon to all of Google’s hardware businesses. As for Google Glass, after being scrapped and coming back to life as Project Aura, it’s clear that the project needs a little help to find its footing; mainly, it needs help in both its execution and its goal setting. While an attempt was made to target the enterprise and tech sectors, the question still remains; who is Glass really for? This is a question that Rick Osterloh just may be able to help answer.
Aside from the reasons springing up from each department, there are, of course, some logistical and fiscal benefits of unifying the departments. For starters, earnings figures will look a bit brighter for otherwise less-than-lucrative projects like Glass and OnHub. This will, of course, have a positive effect on shareholder approval and thus stock prices, bolstering the company’s bottom line and the amount of cash they have to play with. As for logistics, sharing resources and talent among projects is one thing, but transmitting data among the departments with a bit less red tape is sure to be helpful. There are likely a number of other reasons for the move that only Google knows at this point, but one thing is quite certain; they’re betting big on Osterloh, and he shows every indication of being able to deliver the kind of payout they’re looking for. Only time will tell, of course, if he’s really up to the task.