Will Google follow Apple and Microsoft into the retail game?
For the past couple weeks, rumors have swirled that Google intends to launch physical stores, presumably stocked with all manner of Android mobile devices, Google TVs, Chromebooks, and other devices. But now Andy Rubin, who heads up Google’ Android development, is shooting down that scuttlebutt.
“Google has no plans and we have nothing to announce,” he told an audience at this week’s Mobile World Congress, according to AllThingsD. However, he remained more ambiguous about the company’s online-sales efforts, including its possible launch of a Spotify-style music subscription service.
Rubin also suggested that customers don’t need to enter a physical retail space in order to bond with (and purchase) a product: “They don’t have to go in the store and feel it anymore.”
Apple remains the model of what a company can achieve when it decides to expand into retail operations. In addition to giving Apple total control over its sales channel, the distinctive storefronts earn high profits and further establish the brand. Those lessons haven’t been lost on the tech industry: Microsoft began launching its own branded stores in 2009, and Samsung has likewise dipped its toe into the retail waters.
Apple boasts a rather extensive product portfolio, which makes it easy to stock a store’s shelves. Even Microsoft, traditionally a software company that licensed its products to hardware manufacturers, can fill a retail space with its partners’ latest offerings (in addition to its Surface tablet, built entirely in-house). But can Google, best-known for its cloud services, gather together enough hardware to stock a kiosk, much less a series of full-size stores?
A couple years ago, the answer would have been a decisive “no.” However, Google has been expanding rapidly beyond its cloud-based beginnings: in addition to a variety of Android smartphones and tablets manufactured by various hardware concerns (including its Motorola subsidiary), the company has been pushing Chromebooks running its Chrome OS. There’s also Google Glass, a pair of augmented-reality eyeglasses that could arrive in consumers’ hands by the end of the year.
In theory, Google could sell all these things out of a retail space. But if Rubin is accurate, the company has no plans to go in that direction—at least for now.