Olof Schybergson

Google wants to automate your home (and your life)

February 12, 2014: 1:42 PM ET

As the tech giant looks to become more than just a set of tools you use at work and on the go, smart engineering will be key. So will design.

By Olof Schybergson

121126071720-google-logo-press-release-monsterFORTUNE -- Google has successfully developed technologies that make life easier for people at their offices or on the go. Think of services such as Search, Mail, and Drive. And apps, such as Maps and Play, are designed to ease the lives of travelers and commuters on foot or in their cars.

The home is territory that Google has not been able to put a solid footprint in, but that's likely to soon change: Since the start of the year, the tech giant has taken bold steps that suggests executives will be shifting their business strategy in big ways. It acquired Nest Labs, a home automation company, in January (the $3.2 billion deal was finalized Wednesday); the same month, it decided to sell Motorola (MSI) to Lenovo (LNVG).

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While Google (GOOG) has tried to develop more home-centric technologies, Google TV has failed to take off; Google Fiber, which equips households with broadband Internet and television, is available only in very selected areas.

The acquisition of Nest Labs, however, gives Google a much firmer play in the home as it looks to expand its Android software platform for a new generation of devices, such as wearable computers and Internet-connected home gadgets.

Design is key to this strategy. Engineering will continue to be central to Google's success, but an equal focus on design is critical to the company's strategy to develop services that reach users anywhere they are, and sometimes before they even know that they need them, such as devices offered by Nest that automatically adjust the thermostat based on the weather outside.

The promise of Nest, however, goes far beyond better home automation; it can provide Google the type of design-led thinking that understands users' behaviors and needs. Services such as Nest become more personalized and contextualized the more you use them, effectively "living" with you. These devices feel intimate and tailor-made, even though they operate at scale.

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And though Google is selling off Motorola, it's likely that it will continue to gain from its acquisition of the telecommunications company two years ago. The purchase was strategic in that it allowed Google to develop its Android mobile operating system platform through Motorola's vast wireless patent portfolio. As Google looks to become a true companion in people's home-life, access to their services anytime and anywhere on mobile is key.

What's more, Motorola has been a valuable safety shield to Google in reducing lawsuit and intellectual property risks and giving them ammunition in the mobile fight. Unsurprisingly, it's worth noting that in Google's sale of Motorola, it kept a vast majority of the Motorola Mobility patent portfolio, which has been valued at valued at $5.5 billion.

By gaining more design leadership and shifting their focus away from basic, utilitarian tools, Google can become a meaningful part of people's lives wherever they are, whether at work, on the go, or at home.

Olof Schybergson is the CEO and co-founder of service design consultancy, Fjord. 

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