The Google For Work team – the business unit driving the company’s efforts in the digital signage market – did an online video presentation/hangout thingie a couple of weeks ago that went into several subjects, including a lengthy session specifically about digital signage and kiosks.
I was out of town and missed it, but took some time Wednesday to play it back via, surprise, Google-owned YouTube. It’s a long video, so if you want to get right to digital signage, jump to 1:49:57.
It’s worth a watch for anyone curious about what Google is up to. In the past few weeks I’ve run into people who’ve said what the Chrome OS and devices enable is impressive, particularly for video handling. But I’ve also heard from numerous crusty signage industry vets, who essentially responded with rolled eyes or “Pfffft.”
You can form your own opinions about what Google has to say, in this case via its lead product manager Vidya Nagarajan. The talk show format leans heavily on off-screen cue cards, by the looks of things, so that key talking points get covered.
My own take is Google’s signage and kiosk stuff may well be rudimentary right now, but it is running off world-class code and architecture, developed by really, really bright people. They’re already working to fill the gaps in things like more ruggedized devices (Aopen, probably by July), remote device controls and remote management. And Google’s team is beefing up the capabilities of what they call their Chrome Sign Builder.
Google makes its money off management software licenses, so it’s just as happy if people buy Chromeboxes and run someone else’s Chrome-compliant CMS, like Rise Vision or Stratos Media, or a handful of other partners.
If you watch the video, you see assertions about needs and problems in the marketplace that Google can resolve, like digital wayfinding. It’s easy to wonder why the Google people don’t know that stuff already exists. It’s very likely they do, but the signage ecosystem is not the real audience, and the larger retail and corporate world they’re targeting probably don’t know things like ease of use, device and content security, and device management are all pretty standard for mature signage CMS platforms.
Is this area a big focus for Google? No. You’ll see in the video Nagarajan splits time between this and running a team trying to disrupt the videoconferencing market with Chromeboxes and screen cams.
But there are definitely Google resources working on this, and there’s a massive amount of infrastructure and underlying technology this effort gets to leverage without needing it to be dedicated. I don’t know where it is all going, but anyone who just dismisses this as a sideline – something doomed to fail like Cisco’s signage effort – needs to look a little closer.
What it does and enables may never come close to matching what a full signage CMS can do, but there’s a universe of potential users who just need something easy, reliable, affordable and familiar … and they’ve heard of Google.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.